CNN's GUT CHECK | for September 11, 2012 | 5 p.m.
– n. a pause to assess the state, progress or condition of the political news cycle
BREAKING: OBAMA’S APPROVAL ABOVE 50%, HAS HIGHER EXPECTATIONS FOR DEBATES... President Barack Obama's overall approval rating stands at 51%, and voters think he will have an advantage during the next big events of the campaign season: the presidential debates that will be held next month. Fifty-nine percent of likely voters say Obama is more likely to do a better job than Mitt Romney in the October showdowns; 34% think that Romney will beat Obama in the debates. Obama had the same edge over John McCain when voters were asked four years ago who would win the 2008 debates. – Keating Holland
President George W. Bush was in a Florida classroom when he learned about the second plane hitting the World Trade Center – ensuring the fact that the United States was under attack by an unknown enemy. While taking pictures with the students, a reporter tried to slip a question to Bush about the attacks. What was Bush’s response?
Eight years ago, terrorism nearly tied with the economy and jobs as the most important issue of that election. Among the 19% of voters who cited terrorism as their motivating issue for voting, 86% pulled the lever for President George W. Bush.
Now, it’s striking to us that the war on terrorism, which has defined the legacy and debate over Bush’s presidency, has become largely shelved for the presidency of Barack Obama, except for anniversaries such as Tuesday. Nonetheless, Obama has arguably expanded the war on terror in equally controversial and clandestine directions – namely “the drone war.”
In a recent interview with CNN’s Jessica Yellin, the president addressed his administration’s use of drones for the first time in a personal way:
JESSICA YELLIN: Your Homeland Security adviser John Brennan acknowledged for the first time that the U.S. uses armed drones to attack terrorists. My question to you is do you personally decide who is targeted? And what is your criteria, if you do, for the use of legal force?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I've got to be a little careful here. You know, they're classified issues. And a lot of what you read in the press that purport to be accurate aren't always accurate. What is actually true is that my first job, my most sacred as president and commander-in-chief, is to keep the American people safe.
And what that means is we've brought a whole bunch of tools to bear to go after al Qaeda and those who would attack Americans. You know, drones are one tool that we use. And our criteria for using them is very tight and very strict. It has to be a target that is authorized by our laws. It has to be a threat that is serious and not speculative.
It has to be a situation in which we can't capture the individual before they move forward on some sort of operational plot against the United States. And this is an example of where, I think, there's been some misreporting. Our preference is always to capture if we can, because we can gather intelligence. But a lot of the terrorist networks that target the United States, the most dangerous ones, operate in very remote regions. And it's very difficult to capture them.
And we've got to make sure that in whatever operations we conduct, you know, we are very careful about avoiding civilian casualties. And in fact, there are a whole bunch of situations where we will not engage in operations if we think that there's gonna be civilian casualties involved. So, we have an extensive process with a lot of checks, a lot of eyes looking at it. Obviously, as president, ultimately I'm responsible for decisions that are made by the administration. But I think what the American people need to know is the seriousness with which we take both the responsibility to keep them safe, but also the seriousness with which we take the need for us to abide by our traditions of rule of law - and due process.
JESSICA YELLIN: So do you personally approve the targets?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: You know, I can't get too deeply into how these things work. But as I said, as commander-in-chief, ultimately, you know, I am responsible for the process that we've set up to make sure that folks who are out to kill Americans, that we are able to disable them before they carry out those plots.
JESSICA YELLIN: Do you struggle with this policy?
PRESIDENT OBAMA: Oh absolutely. Look, I think that a president who doesn't struggle with issues of war and peace and fighting terrorism and the difficulties of dealing with an opponent that has no rules - that's something that you have to struggle with. Because, if you don't, then it's very easy to slip into a situation in which you end up bending rules thinking that the ends always justify the means.
And that's not been our tradition. That's not who we are as a country. Our most powerful tool over the long term to reduce the terrorist threat is to live up to our values and to be able to shape public opinion not just here but around the world that senseless violence is not a way to dissolve political differences. And so it's very important for the president and the entire culture of our national security team to continually ask tough questions about are we doing the right thing? Are we abiding by rule of law? Are we abiding by due process? And then set up structures and institutional checks so that you avoid any kind of slipperier slope into a place where we're not being true to who we are.
It is natural that a president, during a time of two wars, is torn about policy. In fact, Obama predicted the difficulty of modern warfare – and presidential decision making – in his acceptance speech to the Nobel commission in December 2009.
“In today’s wars, many more civilians are killed than soldiers; the seeds of future conflict are sown, economies are wrecked, civil societies torn asunder, refugees amassed and children scarred,” Obama said.
What is striking is that President Obama’s legacy might be as intertwined with how he has fought the war on terror as President Bush’s.
Did you miss it?
Leading CNNPolitics: Solemn, familiar ceremonies mark 9/11 anniversary
Amid solemn commemorations on Tuesday's 11th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President Obama and other leaders emphasized how America has emerged stronger from the devastation that killed more than 2,900 people. – Tom Cohen
Leading Drudge: Moody's Warns: Us Credit Rating Could Be Cut
Budget negotiations will likely determine AAA rating and outlook. If budget talks do not produce downward trend in debt-to-GDP ratio, rating likely to be lowered to AA1. – Adam Button on ForexLive
Leading HuffPo: September 11 Responders Still Waiting For Relief Promised In 2010
It's been 11 years since terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center towers, and more than a year-and-a-half since President Barack Obama signed into law a bill meant to compensate responders and survivors sickened from exposure to the hazardous debris and toxins of Ground Zero. But they're going to have to wait a while longer - perhaps more than a year - before most of them start to see any of the money authorized in the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act. – Michael McAuliff
Leading Politico: GOP to Mitt Romney: You’re so vague
Leading conservatives are offering blunt advice to Mitt Romney: Quit ducking details, start engaging in a real and specific war of ideas with President Barack Obama — or lose. – Jim Vandehei and Alexander Burns
Leading The New York Times: Missteps and Surprises Turn Battle for the Senate Into a Guessing Game
Connecticut may be the biggest surprise. Two years after a decisive loss in her first Senate campaign, the Republican candidate, Linda E. McMahon, a former professional wrestling executive, is surging in polls. Wisconsin is also now tilting Republican. Democrats face blistering advertisements financed by “super PACs” in states they once thought were secured, and the tight presidential contest in swing states like Ohio, Florida and Nevada is keeping Senate races there closer than anticipated for both parties. – Jonathan Weisman and Jennifer Steinhauer
The political bites of the day
- Obama remembers a ‘day like this one’ -
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA AT A PENTAGON CEREMONY REMEMBERING THE VICTIMS OF 9/11: “Today we remember a day that began like so many others. There were rides to school and commutes to work, early flights and familiar routines, quick hugs and quiet moments. It was a day like this one, a clear blue sky, but a sky that would soon be filled with clouds of smoke and prayers of a nation shaken to its core. Even now, all these years later, it is easy for those of us who lived through that day to close our eyes and to find ourselves back there.”
- Romney takes a break from campaign, expresses gratitude -
MITT ROMNEY AT AN EVENT IN RENO, NEVADA: “With less than two months to go before Election Day, I would normally speak to a gathering like this about the differences between my and my opponent's plans for military and for our national security. There is a time and place for that. But this day is not that. It is, instead, a day to express gratitude for the men and women who fought, and who are still fighting to protect us and our country, including those who trace the trail of terror to that walled compound and the SEALs who delivered justice to Osama bin Laden.”
- Boehner "not confident at all" on budget deal –
SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE JOHN BOEHNER IN AN INTERVIEW WITH CNN: “I'm not confident at all. … Listen the House has done its job on both the sequester and the looming tax hikes that will cost our economy some 700,000 jobs. … The Senate at some point has to act. And on both of these – where is the president? Where's the leadership? Absent without leading.”
- Reid says Boehner’s remarks ‘disappointed’ him -
SENATE MAJORITY LEADER HARRY REID AT THE DEMOCRAT’S WEEKLY PARTY LUNCHES: “I was disappointed when my friend John Boehner said today that he has no confidence on a budget deal. I think we have to look at the glass being half-full not half-empty all the time. I'm confident we will reach some kind of arrangement. I think we can avoid a cutoff for the help that 98% of Americans deserve; we will continue with the middle-class tax cut that the Senate passed. It's much, much too early to give up. I'm not going to give up.”
- I like Ike and so do seniors -
CONAN OBRIEN JOKES ABOUT PRESIDENT OBAMA ON HIS LATE-NIGHT TALK SHOW: “President Obama spent the weekend campaigning in Florida. He's trying to woo senior citizens. Wants to get senior citizens behind them, yeah. Which may be why Obama starts his speeches in Florida with, “Hi, I’m President Eisenhower with a tan.”
What stopped us in 140 characters or less
In a colorfully decorated classroom in Florida, White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card whispered to the president that a second plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York. The news, which came after the president learned about the first jet hitting the towers, cemented the fact that the United States was under attack.
At the end of the visit, while taking pictures in the classroom, a reporter asked Bush if he was aware of the attacks.
“I’ll talk about it later,” Bush said.
Recalling the events from the classroom in a press conference later in the week, Bush reflected trying to balance his time with the children and the fact that the country was at war.
“I'm sitting in the midst of a classroom with little kids, listening to a children's story and I realize I'm the commander-in-chief and the country has just come under attack,” Bush told the White House Press Corps.
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