The signs are everywhere this morning that the skirmishing over the Bowe Bergdahl prisoner swap is set to escalate into a protracted political battle that could go on for weeks or months. And the White House is placing its bet on Da Crazy.
That is to say, White House officials are bracing for months of assaults on Obama’s handling of the swap, but they believe the Conservative Entertainment Complex will veer into over the top attacks that will alienate the broader public, which won’t see the basics of the situation in such lurid terms.
How this plays out could center on a video of Bergdahl in captivity taken by the Taliban in December. It was shown to Senators last night, to persuade them officials were right to worry that his deteriorating health meant fast action — without a 30-day notification of Congress — was imperative.
A senior administration official tells me the White House is reviewing the possibility of releasing the video to the public. CNN’s Jim Acosta also tweeted the same this morning.
Obama aides say they’re not worried about the prospect of weeks of segments on Fox News or hearings by a Republican House that has spent four years investigating and rebuffing the White House on issues like Solyndra and Fast and Furious. [...]
The United States has a “pretty sacred rule and that is we don’t leave our men or women in uniform behind and that dates back to the earliest days,” Obama said Tuesday at a news conference in Warsaw, Poland. [...]
Aides believe that’s how most people outside of the Republicans in Congress and their base will see the situation. “I think the principle of leaving no man behind will ultimately prevail,” said White House spokesperson Eric Schultz.
As noted here yesterday, the administration has not sufficiently addressed legitimate concerns about the legality of the swap, and there are plenty of other legitimate questions. But it does seem possible some GOP lawmakers could take this to a place that alienates moderates and independents, if the din from the base grows loud enough. Allen West is already calling for impeachment, and one GOP lawmaker is actually comparing Secretary of State John Kerry to Bergdahl, arguing that both turned their backs on fellow troops.
In that context, if the video is released, and proves persuasive to the public, it’s possible many voters will come to accept — perhaps grudgingly — the notion that leaving him behind wasn’t an option, making the more fevered attacks on the decision look marginal and absurd.
At the same time, Dem lawmakers may prove unwilling to back up the administration. Senators who were shown the video in a classified briefing last night emerged unconvinced, Dems included. Maybe the video isn’t persuasive; if so, we’ll know soon enough. The alternative explanation is that, at this point, no new facts or info can slow the rush among lawmakers to condemn the move, even among Dems.
* WHY OBAMA ACTED ON BOWE BERGDAHL: The New York Times brings new detail to the backstory here, filling in a lot of detail on what led up to the release of the video to U.S. officials, and reporting on officials’ impressions of it:
In the video, believed to be shot sometime in December, Sergeant Bergdahl made references to recent events — including the death of former South African president Nelson Mandela — but he appeared sick and weak…One Defense Department official said that the Taliban had also expressed concerns about Sergeant Bergdahl’s health, worried that his death would eliminate any leverage they had to secure the release of the prisoners at Guantánamo Bay.
But Senator Joe Manchin is not persuaded: “I think we can all agree we’re not dealing with a war hero here.” Okay, and?
* RELEASE OF TALIBAN FIVE NOT A HUGE THREAT: The Associated Press explains that the real goal of the swap is to set the stage for broader negotiations on a future peaceful Afghanistan, and points out:
In the context of today’s Afghanistan, the Guantanamo Five, while important figures, are not likely to change the balance of the war in any significant way. Although they held leadership positions, they weren’t pivotal in policy decisions. And after having been away from Afghanistan for more than a decade, they are not likely to secure the loyalty of broad numbers of Taliban foot soldiers.
* RANKS OF UNINSURED REMAIN LOW: Gallup’s latest survey on the insured/uninsured population finds:
The uninsured rate for U.S. adults appears to be leveling off since the open enrollment period for buying health insurance coverage through the marketplace ended in mid-April. The uninsured rate so far in the second quarter of 2014 is 13.4%, with the rate in April and May as individual months also averaging 13.4%, respectively…The current 13.4% average for the second quarter of 2014 is the lowest level recorded since Gallup began tracking this measure in 2008.
Such numbers must always be approached with caution, but they are hard to square with GOP claims that the law’s real impact was to leave far more people deprived of coverage than it helped.
Incumbent U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran needs a large, broad turnout in a June 24 runoff — a steep hill, since runoffs are typically parochial with low turnout. Challenger Chris McDaniel needs his blue collar and tea party base of voters in his strongholds to turn out strong again. They still appear fired up and ready….most prognoses had the runoff tilted in McDaniel’s favor.
That outcome would mean Dems have three shots at surprise pickups — Mississippi, Kentucky, Georgia — and while each is a long shot, any one of them could put a GOP majority out of reach.
* HOW DEMS COULD RUN IN MISSISSIPPI: E.J. Dionne has a smart column on how Cochran’s loss shows delivering for the state is a no-no for today’s Big Gummint-hating Tea Party, which gives Dem Travis Childers an opening against McDaniel:
If Cochran went to Washington to bring back what Mississippi needs — most crucially after Hurricane Katrina — McDaniel vowed he would fight D.C.’s expansive government and named Sens. Ted Cruz and Mike Lee as his role models…Childers could run as a Thad Cochran Democrat — except he wouldn’t be saddled with the need to appease an ideology that has to pretend federal spending doesn’t benefit anybody, least of all the people of Mississippi.
* THE NEXT FRONTIER IN THE GUN BATTLE: Gun control groups, having pressured Chipolte and Starbucks to ask customers not to bring rifles into stores are now taking aim at Target, claiming recent incidents in Target stores in multiple states where the Open Carry movement has staged episodes.
Last week, an NRA official issued a statement noting that Open Carry risked making folks feel uncomfortable and could alienate potential supporters of gun rights, but that was quickly retracted, apparently because it made some gun rights folks very, very angry. So this battle will likely escalate.
* QUOTE OF THE DAY, CLOSED CONSERVATIVE INFORMATION FEEDBACK LOOP EDITION: Dana Milbank has a good column comparing the GOP response to the Bergdahl and Benghazi affairs, including this, from GOP Rep. Buck McKeon, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, explaining why he intends to hold hearings on the Bergdahl swap:
“It really is kind of ironic, because this is kind of playing out much like Benghazi,” he said, “where they kind of do or don’t do something, and uh, and then kind of come up with a story afterward of why they did or didn’t do something. This is really mind-boggling.”
Once again, there are legitimate questions about the swap. But another Benghazi? Surely nothing could compete with that level of scandalous wrongdoing.
* AND FOX POLLS ON BERGDAHL SWAP: Fox News is, to my knowledge, the first organization to take a poll on it:
Do you approve or disapprove of the United States releasing five Taliban prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for the release of a U.S. soldier who was being held as a prisoner of war in Afghanistan?
Opinion is polarized. But 84 percent say they’re concerned negotiating with terror groups will encourage more hostage taking. More polling may indeed confirm Obama took a major political risk with this call. Still, “disapproval” doesn’t necessarily equate with seeing this as a major scandal.