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« Sens Set Expectations For Iraq Hearings | Blog Home Page | Dems Lead LA Special »

Morning Thoughts: Petraeus Rock

Good Tuesday morning. The Baltimore Orioles swept a four-game series against the Seattle Mariners and the Memphis Tigers cost Politics Nation a win in his bracket. Yesterday was perhaps the worst sports day in history. But today's a new day, and here's what Washington is watching:

-- The Senate will finally try to invoke cloture on a compromise substitute amendment to the housing bill, as the chair and ranking member of the Senate Banking Committee, which has jurisdiction, came to an agreement last week. The House takes advantage of the day's spotlight on military matters to vote on three troop-friendly resolutions, including one honoring the National Month of the Military Child, one commending the Army Reserve near its centennial, which takes place on April 23, and one resolution dedicated to thanking all the troops for their contributions. The House will also vote on a number of other resolutions, including one calling on China to end a recent crackdown in Tibet.

-- But the big news happens today when General David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker head to Capitol Hill where they will testify first before the Senate Armed Services Committee, at 9:30 a.m., and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, at 2:30 p.m. Eastern. The three presidential contenders will each get a chance to ask questions of the two top officials in Iraq, beginning with John McCain, who serves as ranking member of the Armed Services panel. Petraeus and Crocker are expected to offer a mixed report, and how each candidate spins it will determine how much the focus turns back toward Iraq in the coming days. When the two last addressed Congress in September, it served as a big boost for McCain's campaign, which was then in trouble in the GOP primary.

-- McCain set up his approach to the testimony in a speech yesterday to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Kansas City, saying that the challenges in Iraq have been met by Petraeus and the troops so that the U.S. is "no longer staring into the abyss of defeat," as the Times' Elisabeth Bumiller writes. But not everything he says will be an unquestioning praise of Petraeus; advisers say McCain wants to know more about a recent uprising in Basra, the southern city once controlled by the British that devolved into a chaos of Shiite militias.

-- Still, that line of questioning will be completely at odds with a harsher light to which Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama will subject Petraeus and Crocker. Clinton made the morning television show rounds, criticizing the decision to slow down troop withdrawal and agreeing with a U.S. Institute of Peace report, put out by several former members of the Iraq Study Group, that asserts the country is no better off than it was a year ago, before the troop surge that at least temporarily reduced violence in the country. They're toeing a fine line, though, as too much criticism of the General can associate a candidate with MoveOn.org's questionable decision to run a controversial ad accusing him of betrayal during his September hearings.

-- Leaving the real world and back to the political for a moment, John McCain pulled in more than $15 million in March, the Associated Press and others reported yesterday, still significantly below Obama's $40 million haul and Clinton's $20 million take, but impressive, and enough to start hiring significantly more staff and paying off any bills. But McCain is also making more moves toward public financing for the general election, which would give him about $84 million for the two-month sprint to Election Day. That amount is expected to be supplemented by about $120 million in Republican Victory Committee funds, run through state parties and the RNC, that could build the infrastructure necessary to get their candidate elected in November.

-- Regardless of the outcome of the Democratic primary, that candidate will far outraise McCain up to the convention. Clinton will have no problem skipping public financing, but Obama's headed back down the rabbit hole if he becomes the nominee: In that instance, he will be forced to choose between what would likely be the biggest financial advantage a Democrat has held in modern American history and parity. Why would he accept public financing? Because he said he would, more than a year ago when his campaign looked like it would finish a respectable, but distant, second place to Clinton. If he doesn't, McCain will have whole new reasons to question Obama's sincerity, an attack on the campaign trail that just might work.

-- How close is Obama to winning the Democratic nomination? His recent swing through Pennsylvania (that worked so well he's doing the same thing in Indiana), combined with a massive ad campaign, cut Clinton's lead by ten points, down to 6.1 points in the latest RCP Pennsylvania Average. And along with the ad spending, unions that are backing Obama are running what could prove to be a promising door-to-door campaign to the tune of nearly $1 million, the New York Times writes. Sure, Obama doesn't want to look like he's trying hard in the Keystone State, but he should: If he actually won there, the Democratic race would be, for all intents and purposes, completely finished.

-- Tragedy Of The Day: There may be no more Olympic torch relay, a member of the International Olympic Committee said yesterday. Today, after fiascos involving protesters in Paris and London, the Olympic Torch heads to San Francisco, its only stop in the U.S. during its 34-day journey across six continents on the way to Beijing. The demonstrations have gotten so bad and become so public that the IOC's executive committee will reexamine the issue of future torch relays at a meeting later this week, CNN reports.

-- Today On The Trail: McCain joined veterans at a park near the Senate office buildings this morning for a rally in advance of the Petraeus-Crocker testimony, while Clinton and Obama will deliver remarks to the Communications Workers of America before heading to their day jobs. Michelle Obama is making a swing through North Carolina.