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Fear and political freak out, from Ebola to Paris

Americans are frightened and suspicious of foreigners entering the country from abroad in a way they were during a very different scare one year ago.
Flowers and candles are placed outside Le Carillon bar, the day after a deadly attack on Nov. 14, 2015 in Paris, France. (Photo by Antoine Antoniol/Getty)
Flowers and candles are placed outside Le Carillon bar, the day after a deadly attack on Nov. 14, 2015 in Paris, France.

First Read is a morning briefing from Meet the Press and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.

From Ebola to Paris: Fear and the Political Freak Out 

Americans are frightened and suspicious of foreigners entering the country from abroad. The political press is blaming President Obama for not doing enough. Rival politicians with presidential ambitions are seizing on the issue. Sounds like the political aftermath after Friday's terrorist attacks in Paris, right? But those same descriptions -- fear, suspicion, blame, and political opportunism -- apply to what happened just a year ago during the Ebola scare.

While it's difficult to compare the 129 who died Friday in Paris to the handful of U.S.-based deaths due to Ebola, remember the overall political environment in the fall of 2014 right before the midterm elections. Politicians were demanding a shut down of the U.S.-Mexico border due to Ebola concerns. The political press was criticizing Obama's too-cool crisis management. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was quarantining that American nurse who had returned from West Africa even after she tested negative for Ebola. Bottom line: Panic and fear don't bring out the best in our super-charged, highly polarized political system right now. And it's a question worth asking: If a Paris-like attack happened here, what would the reaction be? Would it contain the unity and resolve we saw immediately after Sept. 11, 2001? Or would it look more like it does now?

Instead of being comforter-in-chief, Obama blasts his political critics

While the Ebola story later vindicated Obama's response, it's impossible to know how his administration's strategy against ISIS will turn out. But here's what we can say now: President Obama was OVERLY defensive during his press conference in Turkey yesterday. And maybe the most surprising part was that he spent more time responding to political critics (like Mitt Romney) than to comforting Americans and the rest of the world. "I don't think I've shown hesitation to act -- whether it's with respect to bin Laden or with respect to sending additional troops in Afghanistan, or keeping them there -- if it is determined that it's actually going to work," Obama said yesterday in Turkey.

"But what we do not do, what I do not do is to take actions either because it is going to work politically or it is going to somehow, in the abstract, make America look tough, or make me look tough." Maybe Obama's anti-ISIS strategy works in the long run. But after Paris, the Metrojet bombing, and the violence in Beirut, there are legitimate questions if there is something else the United States could be doing.

Feinstein breaks with Obama

By the way, do note that some Democrats are breaking with Obama when it comes to handling ISIS. See Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) yesterday: "Sen. Dianne Feinstein sharply contradicted President Barack Obama on Monday, disagreeing with his claim that the Islamic State is 'contained.' 'I've never been more concerned,' the California Democrat and Intelligence Committee ranking member told Andrea Mitchell on MSNBC Monday. 'I read the intelligence faithfully. ISIL is not contained. ISIL is expanding.'"

Twenty-six governors opposed to taking in Syrian refugees

By our count, 26 governors -- mostly Republicans -- are now on the record having opposed, refused, or suspended the resettlement of Syrian refugees in their state. "The first and foremost responsibility of government is to keep its people safe," Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Monday, per NBC's Leigh Ann Caldwell. "We are working on measures to ensure ... that Texans will be kept safe from those refugees." More: "Nearly 2,000 refugees from Syria have relocated to the United States since 2012, the New York Times reports and President Barack Obama has said that the U.S. will accept 10,000."

The New Normal? Terror in headlines is business as usual

Yet as the world reels from Friday's terror attacks in Paris, "many American voters are resigned to the idea that violence at home and abroad has become a new normal in the thrum of daily headlines," one of us writes. "Participants in two focus groups in suburban Columbus on Monday night expressed grim frustration rather than shock at the strikes in the French capital, and several likened the continuous grind of violent episodes abroad to frequent mass shootings here at home. 'As sad it is to say, you knew something like this was coming,' said Brian P., a manufacturing supervisor from Hilliard, Ohio. 'The way I look at it for the future is that there's going to be more. It's just a matter of where and when, and if it's going to be worse.'" More: "'I liken international terrorism to the domestic terrorism that we see on an almost weekly basis,' said Michelle H. of Reynoldsburg, Ohio, as a majority of her fellow participants nodded their agreement. 'I would consider domestic terrorism to be all of the shootings on college campuses and movie theaters and wherever the general public congregates.'"

Kerry -- "I was shocked by [the Paris attacks]. Not surprised"

NBC's Lester Holt sat down with Secretary of State John Kerry in Paris. Some of the highlights:

Holt: Mr. Secretary, we learned from Russia today that it was in fact a bomb that took down the MetroJet over Egypt a couple of weeks ago. ISIS claimed responsibility. ISIS apparently behind the Paris bombings. These are capabilities that no one apparently knew they had. How could the US and the West expectations of ISIS be so wrong?

Kerry: Well, I disagree that a, people didn't know they had this capacity. We certainly have known and have warned people.

Holt: That they could blow up a plane?

Kerry: Sure, I mean, they have gained great expertise over a period of time and they have some people in, in ISIS who've been fighting in the terror network for a period of time. So they have access to C-4. They have access to explosives. Everybody knows that. They're making IEDs every single day.

Holt: So you weren't surprised by what we saw in Paris?

Kerry: I was shocked by it. Not surprised. I, I find that we all know because we are following the threat streams that any individual who wants to strap a suicide vest around them, can walk into any public event in most places in the world and blow him or herself up, and destroy people with them.

Rubio campaign knocks Cruz over NSA reform

Last week we saw Ted Cruz jab Marco Rubio for his authorship of the Gang of Eight immigration reform bill. Well, last night Rubio went after Cruz - on the issue of NSA reform during the Edward Snowden Era (remember that?). As Rubio spokesman Alex Conant tweeted, "One difference in GOP race: @tedcruz voted to weaken US intelligence programs. @marcorubio voted to keep us safe." TheWall Street Journal has more: "The Florida senator criticized Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rand Paul of Kentucky for advocating efforts earlier this year to overhaul the National Security Agency's controversial program to collect the personal communications of millions of Americans, campaign-trail attacks that carry more weight in the aftermath of Paris. 'At least two of my colleagues in the Senate aspiring to be president, Sen. Cruz in particular, have voted to weaken the U.S. intelligence program,' Mr., Rubio told a collection of corporate executives at The Wall Street Journal CEO Council annual meeting. 'Weakening our intelligence-gathering capabilities leaves America vulnerable.'"

O'Malley reduces HQ staff

This is never a good sign for a presidential campaign, especially when you're two and a half months away from the first nominating contests. "Martin O'Malley's financially strapped presidential campaign is reallocating resources to reduce the size of its headquarters staff and focus on the early presidential nominating states, and especially Iowa, according to sources," Alex Seitz-Wald and Kristen Welker report. "The former Maryland governor has been mired in the low single digits in polls and struggled to raise the money necessary to support his relatively large operation. After Saturday night's Democratic presidential debate in Iowa, O'Malley's staff were alerted there would be a shift away from the campaign's Baltimore headquarters to its field operations in the early states."

On the trail

Hillary Clinton campaigns in Dallas, TX… Jeb Bush is in South Carolina… John Kasich delivers a speech in DC on national security… Carly Fiorina stumps in New Hampshire… And Martin O'Malley is in Iowa.

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