If Vice President Joe Biden runs for president, his candidacy will surely expose a pair of vulnerabilities Hillary Clinton has largely been able to hide in her second run for the presidency: The former secretary of state is more hawkish than the Democratic base, and she was a leading advocate for the US intervention in Libya in 2011.
Time and again in President Barack Obama's Situation Room, Clinton and Biden split over where, when, and how to deploy American military force, with Clinton typically advocating a more hawkish line and Biden playing the dove.
Clinton wants people to know about the time when her hawkishness was clearly the right call: She backed the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Jonathan Martin of the New York Times reported Monday that she had discussed her thinking on the operation in an interview with South Carolina Democratic Party Chair Jaime Harrison that was recorded July 23.
It was a really tough decision to advise on because we didn’t have the smoking gun. We didn’t have the picture that showed him out there in the garden, so to speak. So we had to judge what was the best approach. I was one who recommended to the president that he go ahead. And his advisers were split.
In her recent memoir Hard Choices, Clinton observed of Biden only that he "remained skeptical" when she advocated for the raid. That's no small thing because then-CIA chief Leon Panetta was having a tough time selling the White House and the Pentagon.
But in a Democratic primary, the bin Laden raid is probably the least significant of three major issues on which Biden and Clinton found themselves on opposite sides of a Situation Room debate. That's in large part because it went off successfully regardless of Biden's opposition.
What would matter more in a primary is his reservations about a troop surge in Afghanistan that Obama grudgingly agreed to under pressure from Robert Gates, Clinton, and then Gen. David Petraeus. And the US intervention in Libya, where chaos now reigns, could hurt Clinton in both a primary and a general election. In all three cases, Clinton was the hawk and Biden was the dove. Many Democrats see Clinton as too willing to resort to force, and that would be a ready line of attack for Biden.
What they were thinking during debate over the bin Laden raid
Biden recommended against the daring May 2011 raid in large part because he wasn't convinced that bin Laden was at the compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, that the CIA had identified as his likely residence.
Clinton, whom Panetta had courted early, advised President Barack Obama to go for it. Her support was a big deal politically because Biden and then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates both told Obama it was a bad plan. It would have been even riskier for Obama to greenlight the raid if his vice president, defense secretary, and secretary of state were all against it.
Libya is a big vulnerability for Clinton in a primary or a general election
So far, Republicans have focused most of their criticism of Clinton's Libya work on the terrorist assault that killed four Americans in Benghazi on September 11, 2012. In part, that's because many of the leading GOP establishment figures were putting pressure on Obama to intervene in Libya, making it harder to say Clinton exercised poor judgment in pushing for the ouster of strongman Muammar Qaddafi.
Benghazi is a symbol of the chaos in Libya over the last several years, but not the example of malfeasance Republicans on Capitol Hill have tried to make it. What Clinton is responsible for — for better and worse — is lobbying foreign governments to join the US in a coalition to stop Qaddafi from massacring his own people and making the case for action to Obama. She was joined by the humanitarian-interventionist wing of Obama's national security team, including Samantha Power, Susan Rice, Tony Blinken, and Ben Rhodes.
Biden found himself siding with Gates and the military in recommending against going into Libya. There were concerns about starting yet another war in the Muslim world and about the lack of a strategic interest for the US in Libya. Biden told the Financial Times back then that European nations with clear economic and strategic interests in Libya should step up.
Clinton wanted to stop what she thought would be a mass slaughter of Qaddafi's opponents.
She literally shuttled from America to Paris to Cairo in an effort to bring together a force that would include both traditional NATO allies of the US and an Arab contingent that would, hopefully, ensure that the US wasn't seen as being at war with the Muslim and Arab worlds. After securing the blessing of Arab League leader Amr Moussa, Clinton called in to the Situation Room to let Obama know she had stitched together a coalition.
Libya's a mess now, but Biden would have to be clever in taking Clinton to task over it.
He'd have to try to do it in a way that didn't throw Obama under the bus. One of the key appeals of his candidacy is his closeness to the president he's served for more than six years. Ultimately, it was Obama who gave the go-ahead in Libya.
That's not going to be a problem for Republicans who would argue that Clinton's eagerness to intervene in Libya left the country in shambles and led to the events in Benghazi. It's impossible to know what would have happened there had the US not moved to stop Qaddafi.
The battle over the war in Afghanistan
It may be that no internal White House foreign policy debate has ever been so well documented as the first major fight of the Obama administration. Bob Woodward wrote a whole book about it.
It boiled down to this: Right after campaigning to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Obama found that Gates and the Pentagon believed the US needed a troop surge in Afghanistan to reverse Taliban gains and make it more difficult for the country to become a terrorist haven again. Biden was vehemently opposed to a troop surge. His view was that the US should be ramping down, not up — a perspective that was shared by Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, political guru David Axelrod, and others close to Obama.
Clinton and Gates stood shoulder to shoulder. Ultimately, after months of deliberation, Obama approved a hybrid plan that gave the Pentagon fewer troops than it wanted. He then compelled his entire team to sign off on it. Regardless of the merits of the case, it was clear then as now that most Democrats would prefer less military engagement in Afghanistan, not more. In December 2014, after a boost of support for the war, only 38 percent of those surveyed told the Washington Post and ABC News that the war had been worth fighting.
Here are 9 more things to know to start the day.
1) Joe Biden, ally of Southern busing foes
If Biden runs, he'll be vetted anew. Early in his career, as Politico Magazine reports, he teamed up with the Senate's Southern segregationists to try to stop school busing. I can't remember the exact phrasing, but Robert Byrd, the onetime Klansman and later Senate majority leader, made the point in his memoir that Biden had written anti-busing legislation far tougher than anything Byrd would have supported. Here's a taste of Politico's take, written by Jason Sokol.
He had expressed support for integration and—more specifically—busing during his Senate campaign in 1972, but once elected, he discovered just how bitterly his white constituents opposed the method. In 1973 and 1974, Biden began voting for many of the Senate’s anti-busing bills, claiming that he favored school desegregation, but just objected to "forced busing."
Then, as a court-ordered integration plan loomed over Wilmington, Delaware, in 1974, Biden’s constituents transformed their resistance to busing into an organized—and angry—opposition. So Biden transformed, too. That year, Joe Biden morphed into a leading anti-busing crusader—all the while continuing to insist that he supported the goal of school desegregation, he only opposed busing as the means to achieve that end.
This stance, which many of Biden’s liberal and moderate colleagues also held, was clever but disingenuous. It enabled Biden to choose votes over principles, while acting as if he was not doing so.
After Biden's served as Obama's vice president, it seems unlikely that his opposition to school busing would be a determining factor in his relationships with black voters. But it's worth knowing where Biden stood — and where he moved to — on a highly divisive issue.
- Politico also has a gallery of Biden photos that "explain why we can't quit Joe."
2) The incredible shrinking Republican field
Donald Trump skipped the first forum — not technically a debate — of the Republican primary Monday night. The rest of the competitors looked small on the stage and via satellite, Jeremy Peters and Michael Barbaro of the New York Times report:
After weeks of preparing for a smash-mouth debate with Donald J. Trump, 14 Republican candidates found themselves instead Trump-less but sandwiched into a constricting format on Monday night, delivering strikingly uneven performances just days before the first big test of the presidential primary contest.
Rather than making the other contenders look more presidential, however, the event, at St. Anselm College in Manchester, N.H., seemed to shrink the candidates. Assembled in the front row, the Republicans gawked as each rival took his or her turn on stage, looking at times as if they were being forced to sit through a tedious school assembly.
3) The first cut: Which hopefuls will get to debate Thursday night?
Vox's Andrew Prokop delivers a great primer on Fox's rules — the ones that have been revealed and those that are still secret — and which candidates are likely to make the debate stage in Cleveland. It looks like John Kasich and Chris Christie are best-positioned right now to capture the final two slots. Rick Perry and Rick Santorum appear certain to fail to make the cut, along with anyone else not yet mentioned. That means the debate won't include the GOP field's only woman, Carly Fiorina, and Santorum, who won Iowa and a total of 255 delegates in the 2012 primary.
4) WSJ: Super PACs are, for lack of a better word, good
Some Democrats want to amend the Constitution to get rid of Super PACs because they skew political influence toward wealthy contributors. The Wall Street Journal editorial page thinks they're good for democracy — though not as good as lifting caps on how much donors can contribute directly to candidates — because they're giving voice to candidates who might not otherwise be in the race (at least to the ones who make the debate stage).
Republicans are fielding an unprecedented array of presidential candidates, yet the media are full of laments about the political role of rich donors and super Pacs. Sorry, folks, you can’t have it both ways. Voters who want more political competition should thank the super Pacs for making more candidates competitive.
5) Planned Parenthood, still popular, survives Senate vote
If you still need to catch up on the Planned Parenthood controversy — involving the organization's workers discussing the market price of fetal tissue — the Vox video above explains it in about four minutes. Seizing on the controversy, Republicans demanded a Senate floor vote on whether to cut off federal funding for the nonprofit provider of health care services for women. They were stopped by Democrats, who prevented the GOP from getting the 60 votes needed to cut off debate on the measure, as Mike DeBonis of the Washington Post reports:
More than a third of Planned Parenthood’s $1.3 billion in revenue last year came from government sources.
Democrats have portrayed the move to defund Planned Parenthood as an assault on women’s health. Federal funding for abortion, they note, has been outlawed for decades; the bill under consideration in the Senate would block Medicaid reimbursements and federal family-planning grants that support cancer screenings, birth control counseling and other aspects of reproductive health. They also noted past Republican support for fetal tissue research.
Even after the scandal, Planned Parenthood is viewed favorably by 45 percent of Americans and unfavorably by 30 percent, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC poll.
6) But that vote isn't the last you'll hear on this fight
Conservatives are spoiling for a bigger battle on Planned Parenthood, hoping to tie it to the debate over the federal budget. Some of them are focused more narrowly on squeezing Planned Parenthood, while others — like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz — have a bit of a history of looking around for new ways to shut down the government. Margaret Hartmann of New York magazine explains the tension within the Republican Party:
Congress is heading into a five-week recess, but some in the Republican Party have vowed to take up the fight again in the fall by attaching it to a funding bill that must pass by October 1 to avoid a government shutdown. The Republican leadership doesn't seem interested in another shutdown debacle, but conservatives in the party are forcing the issue. ...
While some Republicans have realized that threatening to shut down the government never works, the issue has already seeped into the 2016 race. Senator Ted Cruz, who provoked the 2013 shutdown that failed to destroy Obamacare, is leading the latest shutdown push, and fellow candidates Senators Rand Paul and Marco Rubio joined him in supporting Monday's procedural vote.
7) Trump pranked by fake Harvard Crimson endorsement
You couldn't possibly make any of this up. The Donald became a pawn in a running series of pranks between Harvard's main student newspaper and the satirical Lampoon. Per the Crimson (I think):
Portraying themselves as their longtime rivals, Harvard Lampoon staffers tricked the Donald J. Trump campaign into thinking that The Crimson was endorsing the controversial candidate in his bid for the American presidency. ...
The Crimson, for its part, was unaware of the plot until a Trump campaign representative contacted [Crimson editor Steven] Lee about the editorial, which the imposters had apparently sent to the campaign pre-publication. Unfamiliar with the article, Lee realized that some individuals were likely posing as Crimson editors. He clarified to the campaign that no one had visited Trump Tower on behalf of the newspaper, nor authorized the editorial.
8) City puts unauthorized immigrants on commissions
Expect this to blow up into a national political story. The LA Times has the tale of 21-year-old Julian Zatarain, an unauthorized immigrant who was given an official post in Huntington Park, California:
On Monday, Zatarain proudly accepted an appointment to the Huntington Park parks and recreation commission. Another immigrant here illegally, Francisco Medina, 29, won an appointment to the health and education commission. ... People who are in this country illegally cannot vote or seek elected office, but officials in Huntington Park said their status should not stop them from helping govern in other ways. ...
"Our population includes documented and undocumented immigrants, and I wanted to make sure everyone could participate," Huntington Park Mayor Karina Macias said.
9) Schumer & Schumer team up on gun control after theater shooting
It's not often that New York Sen. Chuck Schumer gets upstaged at a press conference — the joke on Capitol Hill is that the most dangerous place in Washington is between Schumer and a camera. But on Monday, he shared the stage to let his cousin Amy Schumer talk about gun control. She's the writer and star of the film Trainwreck, which was playing in a Louisiana theater where a shooter opened fire last month. Time has a rundown of Chuck Schumer's proposal and a full transcript of Amy Schumer's statement, including this call for action:
"We need a background check system without holes and fatal flaws. We need one with accurate information that protects us like a firewall. The critics scoff and say well, there’s no way to stop crazy people from doing crazy things but they’re wrong. There is a way to stop them. Preventing dangerous people from getting guns is very possible. We have common-sense solutions. We can toughen background checks and stop the sale of firearms to folks who have a violent history or history of mental illness. We can invest more in treating mental illness instead of slashing funding.