Nice Guy Pawlenty Won’t Hit Romney; Bachmann, Perry Benefit

JOHN KING: "You don't want to address why you called Gov. Romney's Obamneycare?"

TIM PAWLENTY: "I just cited President Obama's own words that he looked to Massachusetts as a blueprint."

KING: "Why is it not Obamneycare standing here with the governor right now?"

PAWLENTY: "President Obama is the person I quoted ... Using the term 'Obamneycare' was a reflection of the president's comments."

-- Exchange in the CNN’s second-in-the-nation Republican presidential debate.

Tim Pawlenty had a great couple of weeks, but his bid to be the conservative alternative to Mitt Romney in the Republican field crashed into his own Minnesota niceness on Monday night.

Pawlenty had teed himself up to whack the former Massachusetts governor on his health care law that requires all citizens of the commonwealth to buy insurance or be enrolled in a government program, just like President Obama’s national law.

The former Minnesota governor had floated his balloon with Chris Wallace on “FOX News Sunday,” calling the two laws by one name: “Obamneycare.” Zing. He even tried out the line on the day of the debate.

But when pressed by moderator John King about the phrase, Pawlenty shrank. He excused his use of the line by saying that it had been in answer to a question and that he was simply echoing the words of the president himself. He looked to be in physical pain as he explained himself just the width of Ron Paul away from Romney.

That was very bad news for a guy who has conservatives wondering whether he has the brass to go head to head with a sitting president. Pawlenty had won big praise for his economic plan and his “tell the truth” tour in which he slaughtered Republican sacred cows like Ethanol and Social Security. Conservatives dissatisfied with Romney were taking a second look at the Minnesota nice guy and then, poof.

Romney spoke forcefully about Obama’s jobs record and sounded like a man ready to mix it up with the president. With Pawlenty declining to play hardball, the debate was a clear win for Romney.

It was on his turf in New Hampshire and CNN offered him some helpful questions like asking whether he agreed with Herman Cain that Muslims should receive special scrutiny for cabinet positions, etc.

Like the rest of the candidates, though, he played along with the network’s series of light-hearted either-or questions “Coke or Pepsi?” “Spicy or mild?” There could have been a 5-point poll bounce for the candidate who found a snappy way to not play along.

The other success story of the night was Michele Bachmann, who reminded Republicans she has serious ideas and is more than the caricature painted of her by the establishment press. She proved that she will be a force to be reckoned with. Cain will lose some support to her (as will Pawlenty in Iowa). The campaigns who underestimated Bachmann have done so at their own peril.

But the biggest winner of the night is Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Still unscarred by the actual campaign process, Perry is on a multi-city speaking tour this week that wraps up with a speech to a conservative activist convention in New Orleans.

For conservatives who felt deflated by Pawlenty’s discomfort with punch throwing will now be even more interested in what the plain-spoken Texan has to say.

New Conflicts Grow Amid Trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan

“…none of the funds made available by this act may be used in contravention of the War Powers Act."

-- Text of an amendment to a House defense appropriations bill rebuking President Obama for his unauthorized involvement in the Libyan civil war. The measure passed easily with bipartisan support.

Eight American soldiers have been killed in Iraq in the past week as violence escalates in the nation ahead of the final stage of a gradual U.S. withdrawal later this year.

And the problems may be only beginning. A brazen attack on an Iraqi government building in Baqubah, northeast of Baghdad, has left at least eight dead and dozens wounded after militants detonated a pair of car bombs before launching a commando-style assault.

A combination of unrest from the region-wide revolutionary spirit, the re-emergence of al-Qaeda-style tactics and mischief by Iran has made Iraq a very violent place again. An estimated 177 people were killed by insurgent attacks in May and June is shaping up to be worse.

The takeaway: The U.S. looks increasingly likely to be extending its military commitment in the country and the chances are growing that the role of the remaining forces may have to be enhanced, with perhaps even the resumption of “combat operations.”

On Afghanistan, meanwhile, political pressure is mounting on President Obama to abandon his nation-building surge there. Even moderate Republican presidential frontrunner Mitt Romney came out in favor of an expeditious withdrawal from the hobbled nation.

If you think getting out of Iraq is hard, wait until you try to pull 100,000 troops out of a geographically larger nation over which allied forces have had much less control. Gen. David Petraeus is in Washington this week to make his recommendation for how to proceed there, and the president will again be forced into a least-bad-option kind of decision.

But even with the problems in the wars he inherited, Obama is pushing the envelope in the wars of his choosing.

In Libya, America and its European allies are desperate to kill Col. Muammar al-Qaddaffi and have essentially declared the entire nation a free-fire zone if necessary to rub out the kooky colonel.

The duration and brutality of the months-long civil war makes it all the more unlikely that the coalition of eastern tribesmen and Islamists which NATO is trying to install as the country’s new government could be accepted by the western tribes loyal to their cousin Qaddafi. If they hated each other before, imagine what they think now.

Meanwhile, the administration is stepping up its air campaign in Yemen, which is similarly strife stricken. There, Shia tribes backed by Iran and al Qaeda baddies may be teaming up to destroy what remains of the Western and Saudi-backed Sunni government.

While the administration classifies this escalation, like the one if Pakistan, as an intelligence operation designed to kill specific individuals as opposed to the more impersonal designation of a “kinetic military operation,” the escalation would have the U.S. conducting lethal operations in at least four Muslim nations simultaneously.

As the forecast darkens for the Arab Spring lawmakers are increasingly concerned about Obama’s tendency to commit U.S. forces without consultation or authorization with Congress.

On June 20, Obama will be in full violation of the War Powers Resolution as it relates to the Libya campaign. A bipartisan coalition in Congress is warning that if Obama is allowed to flout the law, the last remaining check on presidential military prerogative will be kaput.

Timing for Puerto Rico Trip Es Muy Mal

QUESTIONER: “We see firsthand what happens when to try to permit a project in this country. It can delay things from months to even years, and in many cases even cause projects to be abandoned. I'm sure that when you implemented the Recovery Act your staff briefed you on many of these challenges…"

PRESIDENT OBAMA: "Shovel-ready was not as, uh, shovel-ready as we expected."


-- President Obama joking about the slow pace of government projects with a businessman at a session on jobs in Durham N.C.

President Obama will be in Puerto Rico today for a pair of interviews with Spanish-language outlets and for another fundraiser.

While the president is being praised for his political savvy in nuzzling Hispanic voters with his trip, the brief visit seems to be a dissonant note at this moment.

It’s much easier to defend sticking taxpayers with the bill for a campaign trip to North Carolina when the topic of discussion is going to be jobs and the economy than it is to argue why we need to send the president to the Caribbean for pure politics.

If the President watched the clips of the CNN New Hampshire Republican debate after his Miami fundraisers last night he would have seen some disturbing trends. Republicans have found an effective line of attack on Obama and jobs.

Mitt Romney’s message that Obama “has failed” backed up with a campaign message that says that the president is out-of-touch with the concerns of Americans is potent stuff.

While the administration and Democrats are again talking about a new focus on jobs, a trip to politick in Puerto Rico provides some really bad visuals for a nation that is in a state of deepening economic anxiety.

Despite the departure of most of the president’s economic team and a spate of bad economic news, the administration seems to be staying the course for now on the president’s strategy of claiming credit for averting a worse recession/depression and counseling Americans to have patience with the recovery, as he did in Miami last night.

The “bumps in the road” strategy is not going to feed the bulldog.

The administration is under fire from the left and right over a New York Times report that the DNC arranged a big economic powwow for Wall Street donors at the White House. The claim is that Obama sold access to the very folks he has denounced in public as fat cats. But the bigger problem may have been the message there.

If the administration really believes that unemployment is going to be 8 percent on Election Day, the time for identity politics photo-ops and taking credit for averting disaster in the Panic of 2008 is over.

Obama’s joke to a concerned businessman about the failure of his 2009 stimulus to produce the growth he promised was stark evidence that Obama doesn’t understand the depths of public concern over the economy and his policies.

As the Republicans showed Tuesday, the economic status quo is toxic to Obama’s chances.

Dems Anxious About Debt Deal

"I've been very impressed with the way he conducts his meetings -- he does like to talk. I guess we all do, otherwise we wouldn't be here."

-- House Majority Leader Eric Cantor speaking to reporters about Vice President Joe Biden.

The bipartisan debt ceiling negotiations resume today with Republicans sounding optimistic notes about the chances for some kind of deal to avert a partial government shutdown when the Treasury runs out of cash on Aug. 2.

Vice President Biden has been goosing the discussion in the direction of a deal as the administration continues to hear from Wall Street donors that the looming uncertainty in Washington is stifling the already weak economy.

The administration has been leaning closer and closer to embracing a cuts package in exchange for Republicans not blocking Obama’s demand to increase the current federal borrowing limit from $14.3 trillion. The current extension – a $1.9 trillion hike in February 2010 – was exhausted last month.

But rank and file congressional Democrats remain unconvinced about a deal. A pair of Democratic aides told Power Play nothing can be approved unless there is some kind of tax increase on the wealthy.

While Republican leaders can deliver the votes needed to pass a cuts package less ambitious than the most conservative members are demanding, any kind of a tax increase is a dead letter, especially in a recession.

Liberals who resent Obama’s acquiescence on tax rates in December and on government cuts in the spring are not well disposed to the idea of handing Republicans yet another victory.

As the president and the GOP edge closer to a deal, the biggest sales job still lies ahead.

Weiner Waggles in the Wind

"I can tell you that if it was me, I would resign. When you get to the point where, because of various personal distractions, you can't serve as effectively as you need to, at the time when people are worrying about jobs, and their mortgages, and paying the bills - then you should probably step back."

-- President Obama on “Today” discussing Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y.

The word in Brooklyn in chutzpah, and it’s what Rep. Anthony Weiner has in spades.

Knowing that his claim on office is the last card he has to play (other than a tell-all book and perhaps an eventual gig as Eliot Spitzer’s fill in), Weiner is forcing his fellow Democrats into outrageous contortions as they must rebuke his pervy online antics and campaign of systematic dishonesty waged right up until he couldn’t get away with it anymore.

But since Democrats don’t like the idea of actually saying someone should resign – especially for sex-based scandals or misdeeds uncovered by conservative Internet impresario Andrew Breitbart – the blue team is using some tortured terms to say he should resign, but not using those words. President Obama waded in to the soup, saying that he would resign if he were in Weiner’s position. Can Obama really imagine what it is like to be Tony Weiner with the Internet chock-full of his crotch shots? Really?

The hope among Democrats is that the return of Weiner’s wife, Hillary Clinton confidante Huma Abdein, from a long African sojourn with the secretary of State will push Weiner to finally relent and step down.

That works only if he really is in rehab and she really does want to stay married to him after all of this grossness, dishonesty and humiliation. If she isn’t going to stand by her man, holding on to power might be even more important for him.

*** Rep. David Schweikert, R-Ariz., Hill Editor A.B. Stoddard and former DNC spokesman Tony Welch on “Power Play w/ Chris Stirewalt” today @11:30 EDT http://live.foxnews.com/ ***