The sound of silence (almost) from the ’16 candidates on drone deaths … But it’s a conversation and debate worth having for the next commander-in-chief … The Clinton campaign strikes back against the NYT … Why Ted Cruz skipped the Loretta Lynch vote: He had to catch a flight to a Texas fundraiser … Conservative writer: “John Kasich should be punished for expanding Obamacare” … Saturday’s two GOP cattle calls … And previewing this Sunday’s “Meet the Press.”
*** The Sound of Silence (Almost) From the ’16 Candidates on Drone Deaths: If you’ve been following American politics over the last six years, President Obama could sneeze, and it would produce a flurry of negative statements and reactions from his political opponents. That’s what makes yesterday’s silence -- or backtracking -- from Republican 2016 presidential candidates regarding the accidental drone killing of two hostages so striking. As the Wall Street Journal writes, some Republican 2016ers chose not to comment on yesterday’s news (Jeb Bush, Scott Walker), while two others who staged a 2013 filibuster against U.S. drone policy had no stomach to protest it (Rand Paul and Ted Cruz). “It is a tragedy that these hostages lost their lives,” Paul said in a brief statement, per the Journal. “My prayers and thoughts are with their families.” Cruz called for investigation into the deaths, but added: “Make no mistake: responsibility for their deaths lies firmly and unequivocally with the terrorists who kidnapped them and forcibly held them in their command center.”
***But it’s a conversation and debate worth having: Meanwhile, Lindsey Graham -- a hawkish supporter of U.S. intervention overseas -- said, “Collateral damage is part of war. I’ve got no problem at all with anything that happened, other than my deepest sympathies for those who were held by al Qaeda that became collateral damage.” And Marco Rubio added, “We are all safer because of the actions taken every day around the world by our government to go after those who wish Americans harm and to prevent future attacks against us here at home.” But what’s amazing is that an issue that sparks so much political debate -- Should drones be used in these kinds of operations? What about against American citizens, even those with al Qaeda ties? Should there be more checks and balances? -- the 2016ers essentially punted. These are ALL questions American voters should get answers from the people vying to become the next commander-in-chief. But no one was comfortable having that conversation yesterday. It’s a reminder of just how unprepared many of these campaigns are to debate some of the true heavy issues out there.
*** The Clinton campaign strikes back: Hours after the New York Times reported on a Canadian mining company -- whose principals donated heavily to the Clinton Foundation over the years -- sold its uranium business to Russia (which had to be approved by Hillary Clinton’s State Department), the Clinton campaign struck back at the newspaper. It issued these rebuttals to attempt to knock down any quid-pro-quo:
- Hillary wasn’t involved in the State Department’s review; it is the assistant secretary of state for economic, energy, and business affairs who makes the call;
- The main Clinton Foundation donor, Frank Giustra, sold his stake in the Canadian mine business in 2007, so before Hillary became secretary of state;
- The State Department was one of nine U.S. agencies to review the sale.
Indeed, upon reflection, that Times article doesn’t hold up that well 24 hours after its publication. But if there’s a legitimate criticism of the Clintons here -- especially when it comes to the other articles about the Clinton Foundation and Bill’s speaking fees (here and here) -- it’s that they were sloppy, bordering on being greedy. As Jonathan Chait writes. “All sorts of unproven worst-case-scenario questions float around the web of connections between Bill’s private work, Hillary Clinton’s public role as secretary of State, the Clintons’ quasi-public charity… But the best-case scenario is bad enough: The Clintons have been disorganized and greedy.” Just a reminder: Going after the Clintons on personal money and appearances of conflict of interest was a successful message for candidate Barack Obama in 2007-2008.
*** Why Ted Cruz skipped the Loretta Lynch vote: He had to catch a flight to a Texas fundraiser: Ted Cruz, who was one of the most vocal critics against Loretta Lynch's nomination for Attorney General, was the only senator to miss her final confirmation vote today because he needed to catch a flight for a previously scheduled commitment in Texas, his campaign told NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and Frank Thorp. "He had to catch a flight for a commitment in Texas," Cruz campaign spokeswoman Catherine Frazier said. According to a fundraising invite obtained by Real Clear Politics, Cruz has a fundraiser in Dallas, TX scheduled for 6:00 pm. Cruz spoke on the Senate floor Thursday morning against Lynch's nomination, and then voted against the procedural vote to move forward with consideration of her nomination, something called “cloture.” But Cruz missed the actual vote on Lynch's nomination.
*** Conservative writer: “John Kasich should be punished for expanding Obamacare”: Here’s a reason you might not want to buy stock in John Kasich’s POSSIBLE presidential candidacy: He expanded Medicaid in Ohio. And here’s the headline from the Washington Examiner’s Philip Klein, one of top conservative wonks: “John Kasich should be punished for expanding Obamacare.”
*** Saturday’s two GOP cattle calls: Saturday brings two GOP cattle calls. One is the Iowa Faith & Freedom Coalition spring kick-off, featuring nine 2016ers -- Cruz, Fiorina, Huckabee, Jindal, Paul, Perry, Rubio, Santorum, and Walker. And the other one is the Republican Jewish Coalition confab in Las Vegas, which will also hear from Cruz and Perry, as well as George W. Bush, John Boehner, and Mitt Romney.
*** On “Meet” this Sunday: Finally, on “Meet the Press” this Sunday, here’s an early look at some of guests: David Boies and Ted Olson (to talk about the Supreme Court’s upcoming gay-marriage decision), Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and cartoonist Garry Trudeau.
OBAMA AGENDA: Drone Wars
The president said Thursday that the strike against al Qaeda operatives that killed two hostages was “fully consistent” with current guidelines on drone strikes. Those rules will now be under review, the Wall Street Journal reports.
From the New York Times: “By most accounts, hundreds of dangerous militants have, indeed, been killed by drones, including some high-ranking Qaeda figures. But for six years, when the heavy cloak of secrecy has occasionally been breached, the results of some strikes have often turned out to be deeply troubling.”
The Washington Post reports, “Current and former U.S. counterterrorism officials said that Thursday’s disclosures undercut years of U.S. claims about the accuracy of the drone program.”
The Post profiles Warren Weinstein, the U.S. aid worker killed in the drone attack.
Here’s Export-Import Bank head Fred Hochberg on why the Export-Import Bank matters.
CONGRESS: Lynch gets confirmed (finally)
“Loretta Lynch was confirmed Thursday as attorney general, the first black woman in American history to hold the country's top law enforcement post,” NBC’s Halimah Abdullah reports.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell whipped votes to push the nomination through, the Hill reports.
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz led the charge against Lynch, but missed the final vote on her confirmation to get back home for a fundraiser, NBC’s Kelly O’Donnell and Frank Thorp report.
The contentious Pacific trade deal cleared a major hurdle in the House, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Illinois Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin told CQ Roll Call that he has support to remain whip.
OFF TO THE RACES: Back to Iowa
Nine GOP presidential hopefuls will be in Iowa this weekend for the Faith & Freedom Coalition spring kickoff. The Des Moines Register lays out 10 things to watch ahead of the event.
BUSH: Per CNN: Jeb Bush on Thursday sought to distance himself from former Secretary of State James Baker, one of his foreign policy advisers, saying in a closed-door meeting that he doesn't believe Baker should have recently addressed the liberal-leaning Israel advocacy group J Street.
Iowa Republicans agree Jeb Bush has a Common Core problem, but they differ on how he should deal with it, Politico reports.
And he won’t be in Iowa this weekend. Instead, he’ll be huddling with donors in Miami, Politico writes.
Despite his indulgence in pie, he is determined to stay slim in 2016, the New York Times reports.
CLINTON: “Hillary Clinton is being called to testify on Benghazi as early as mid-May, according to Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, chair of a committee tasked with investigating the attacks,” NBC’s Leigh Ann Caldwell and Alex Moe report.
Rep. John Boehner told Bloomberg the House may try to subpoena Clinton’s personal email server if she doesn’t voluntarily turn it over.
New York Times op/ed: “Hillary Rodham Clinton’s determination to reconnect with voters in localized, informative settings is commendable, but is in danger of being overshadowed by questions about the interplay of politics and wealthy foreign donors who support the Clinton Foundation.”
Republican National Committee Chair Reince Preibus writes in the Des Moines Register: “Yes, everyday Americans "need a champion." But Clinton is not cut out to be that champion. In her eyes, there's one cause that comes before all else: herself.”
KASICH: The National Review asks: Is John Kasich’s presidential run for real?
O’MALLEY: In a Washington Post op-ed, the former Maryland governor calls for debt-free college.
RUBIO: The Florida senator jumped to the head of the pack in a new Fox News poll.
The Associated Press notes that it was not long ago Rubio was questioning his own readiness to be president.
WALKER: He told a crowd this week that he will not discuss Social Security and Medicare reform until he formally declares a presidential run, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reports.
NBC News' Andrew Rafferty contributed reporting.