Obama juggles Ukraine, Netanyahu visit before unveiling budget

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Politics,White House,Barack Obama,Russia,PennAve,Susan Crabtree,Budgets and Deficits,Benjamin Netanyahu,Ukraine

The crisis over Russia's military intervention in Ukraine looms over a busy week for President Obama, as he also welcomes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday and turns to domestic politics, highlighted by his budget on Tuesday.

While Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday said the administration is still open to working with Russia to help protect its interests in Ukraine, he added that the U.S. and the international community is considering several actions if the warnings fall on deaf ears.

Those options include moving to kick Russia out of the G8 group of world leaders; canceling U.S. participation in the G8 Summit planned for June in Sochi, Russia; freezing overseas Russian assets, withholding visas, and “other actions by the global community against this unilateral step.”

So far, U.S. officials have said only that they are pulling out of preparations for the G8 Summit in Sochi.

Members of the North Atlantic Council met Sunday and condemned Russia's “military escalation in Crimea” and expressed “grave concern” about the Russian Parliament's vote to authorize the military intervention in all of Ukraine, not just the Crimean region. The European Union Foreign Affairs Council is set to meet Monday to weigh options.

Republicans over the weekend used the Ukraine crisis to train their fire on the president's foreign policy record, arguing that Russian President Vladimir Putin was emboldened by Obama's failure to follow through on his red-line threat to Syria's Bashar Assad over the use of chemical weapons and his studied resistance to intervening in other hot spots around the globe.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers, R-Mich, on “Fox News Sunday” said “Putin is playing chess while we're playing marbles.”

Sen. Lindsey Graham, a South Carolina Republican and leading critic of Obama's foreign policy, said the president has lost credibility and any threats he makes to other world leaders ring hollow.

“Every time [Obama] goes on national television and threatens Putin or anyone like Putin, everybody's eyes roll, including mine,” Graham said Sunday on CNN's “State of the Union.”

Amid the global reaction to Russia's invasion in Ukraine, Obama is scheduled to sit-down with Netanyahu at the White House Monday for a progress report on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The Obama administration aimed to reach a breakthrough in the talks by April 29 but are now saying they hope both sides can reach an agreement on a framework for peace negotiations by that time.

Even though both sides remain entrenched, Kerry on Sunday called Netanyahu's involvement in the negotiations “courageous” when it comes to “tough decisions” he's made in entering into the talks and “some of the things that he's indicated he's willing to do.”

Kerry said Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also much decide whether or not he's prepared to compromise.

“This is not, you know, a burden exclusive to one party of the other,” he said, noting that Abbas will meet with Obama at the White House March 17. “I don't think it's some showdown or anything. This has been a very cooperative, engaged process on a daily basis with both parties.”

Obama in an interview with Bloomberg News columnist Jeffrey Goldberg last week said he plans to warn Netanyahu that he alone has the power to lead his people to a more peaceful existence because time is running out for Israel as a Jewish-majority democracy.

The president in the interview said he planned to tell Netanyahu: “If not now, when? And if not you, Mr. Prime Minister, then who?”

Despite all the focus on geopolitics and the world stage, Obama will also try to pull Americans' attention back to his domestic priorities after Monday's visit with Netanyahu.

On Tuesday, the White House will send Congress Obama's budget for fiscal year 2015 three weeks after its deadline of the first Monday in February. The process is getting off to a slow start this year. The focus on Ukraine over the weekend kept White House economic advisers from hitting the Sunday talk show circuit to preview some of the president's spending priorities outlined in the budget blueprint.

Although largely symbolic, Obama's budget will mark a starting point for Democrats and Republicans to begin making their case on economic issues to the American people ahead of the fall midterms.

Early reports about Obama's proposal say it will provide $28 billion in new domestic funding, including money for new manufacturing hubs, early childhood education and job training that will be offset by cost savings in other areas.

Republicans are focusing their biggest concerns about the budget on its call for the Pentagon to shrink the size of the Army to its smallest level since before World War II, even though the military as a whole will get an additional $28 billion over last year's funds.

On Wednesday, Obama travels to Connecticut to hold an event with four governors from New England – Connecticut Gov. Dan Malloy, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin – to highlight the need for Congress to raise the minimum wage for all workers.

“What's driving us here is we really want to do the right thing to ensure that no American who works 40 to 50 hours a week goes home hungry,” Malloy told reporters Sunday on a White House-organized conference call.

On Thursday, Obama will participate in an event in Washington, D.C. to promote Obamacare and highlight its benefits for middle-class Americans.

The president and first lady Michelle Obama will cap the week with a trip to South Florida where they plan to highlight the importance of Americans' access to quality education, White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters Sunday.

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Susan Crabtree

White House Correspondent
The Washington Examiner