The Note: Where’s The Beef? Jon Huntsman Serves Up Tofu To GOP Base

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone) and AMY WALTER ( @amyewalter)

As President Obama prepares to tell the American people tonight about his plan for the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, his newest Republican opponent has come out of the gate swinging.

In an interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today, former U.S. Ambassador to China Jon Huntsman said he would pursue a more aggressive approach for withdrawing American troops from Afghanistan than the one President Obama will present this evening.

Huntsman said Obama’s expected plan to bring home 10,000 troops this year and all 30,000 surge troops by the end of 2012 is “a little slow and a little cautious.”

“I think over the next year there’s room to draw down more… More than 10,000 over the next year,” Huntsman said on “GMA” this morning. “I think we have to see -- nine years and 50 days into this conflict, the money that has been spent on both conflicts, well over $1 trillion, I think we have to say, ‘What have we accomplished in Afghanistan?’”

Huntsman was singing much the same tune yesterday when he officially kicked-off his presidential bid, telling our Jonathan Karl that his approach would be to “get American troops out faster” and that the U.S. needs to “transition into a counter-terror effort as quickly as we can.”

It's not that Huntsman isn't throwing red meat to the base, he's asking them to eat tofu. In just the past day, he's advocated a bigger, faster draw down from Afghanistan than even the president wants and said he won't attack President Obama directly. A staple of primary voters’ diets is a healthy serving of hard hitting rhetorical punches at your opponent, and according to Huntsman, they should be looking somewhere else for that.

The conventional wisdom is that you can't tack left on national security in a primary. Both Sen. John McCain and fellow presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty have warned of a drift toward "isolationism" But, Huntsman has public opinion on his side when it comes to Afghanistan. The latest ABC News-Washington Post poll showed that 59 percent of Republicans and 63 percent of self-identified Tea Party supporters support significant draw down by this summer. Notably, self-identified "very consevative" Americans are evenly divided on the draw-down at 48 percent.

NO MORE MR. NICE GUY. He might not be aiming his rhetorical fire at Obama just yet, but Huntsman told ABC News that Mitt Romney “has little credibility” on health care. The comment came in an interview for the ABC News Subway Series with Jonathan Karl aboard his campaign plane

“If you’re talking about free market health care, the kind we did in Utah, and the kind that is needed in this country, then he has little credibility,” Huntsman said. “Little credibility based on the model that was created in Massachusetts.”

As Karl notes, even as he made his first attack as a presidential candidate, he did so more gently than his fellow Republican candidates, saying he would not say Romney is a “co-conspirator on Obamacare” as former Massachusetts Gov. Tim Pawlenty has said. “People can see it for what it is and make their own informed decision,” he told Karl.

WHAT OBAMA WILL SAY. Facing waning public support for the mission and lawmakers concerned over the high cost of war, President Obama will announce his blueprint to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July, a promise he made when he ordered the 30,000 troop “surge,” ABC’s Mary Bruce reports. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said Tuesday that the president’s decision process was “all about the mission that was laid out in December of 2009.” Obama will likely make the argument that the U.S. has made significant progress toward achieving his goals; to disrupt, dismantle and defeat Al Qaeda, break the momentum of the Taliban, and stabilize the situation so that Afghan security forces can begin the process of taking over security. According to the latest ABC news polling 73 percent of Americans say the United States should withdraw a substantial number of U.S. combat forces from Afghanistan this summer. Yet far fewer, 43 percent, think that will in fact happen.

TUNE INTO TONIGHT. ABC News will broadcast live coverage of President Barack Obama’s speech on the war in Afghanistan beginning at 8:00 p.m., ET. Diane Sawyer will anchor with Chief Political Correspondent and co-anchor of “Good Morning America” George Stephanopoulos. Coverage and analysis will continue on “Nightline” and tomorrow morning on “Good Morning America.” will live stream the address and will provide extensive reporting from ABC’s political and national security correspondents as well as its reporters in Afghanistan.

ABC News Radio will provide live coverage anchored by ABC News Radio Correspondent Steve Portnoy who will be joined by ABC News Radio White House Correspondents Ann Compton and ABC News Radio Correspondent Aaron Katersky who will be with U.S. troops at Fort Drum in upstate New York.

ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE”: ABC’s Rick Klein and Amy Walter hear from Republican presidential hopeful Ron Paul, who has been out on the campaign trail trying to drum up the kind of enthusiastic support he received as a candidate in 2008. Also on the program, former director of National Intelligence, Admiral Dennis Blair, who will weigh in on President Obama’s planned withdrawal announcement. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern.

“TOP LINE” REPLAY: JOE HECK. “Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., introduced a bill yesterday that would shut down funding for U.S. military operations in Libya within 30 days, with the exception of money spent to withdraw American assets from the region,” ABC’s Rick Klein reports. “‘We went into Libya with no notification, no request for congressional authority or approval -- violating the War Powers Act. We're not sure what the actual final objective is,’ Heck, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, told ABC’s ‘Top Line’ yesterday.” (h/t ABC's Sarah Parnass)

TROUBLE ON THE TRAIL: NEWT GINGRICH EDITION. “Newt Gingrich's presidential campaign acknowledged on Tuesday that Gingrich had a second line of credit at high-end jewelry store Tiffany's for as much as $1 million,” ABC’s Arlette Saenz reports. “As first reported by the Washington Post, Joe DeSantis, spokesman for the Gingrich campaign, said Gingrich's personal financial disclosure filing due 30 days after his declared candidacy will reveal ‘the Gingriches had a $500,000 to $1 million line of credit at Tiffany's, that it has zero balance, and it has been closed.’ DeSantis said all debts to Tiffany's had been paid and offered no information regarding when the line of credit was obtained, when it was closed, or what it was used to purchase. Sources told ABC News the Gingrich campaign was worried about what the next filing would reveal.”

Despite a crumbling campaign infrastructure, Gingrich appears intent on powering through the campaign season, ABC’s Arlette Saenz reports. He was to hold an event in Atlanta this morning and, later on, his family, staff and supporters are hosting a 68th birthday celebration for him at his Atlanta campaign headquarters. Thursday, he heads to Baltimore for the Maryland Republican Party’s Red, White and Blue Dinner. This weekend he plans on linking up with the Iowa Tea Party Bus Tour in Indianola, Iowa. This will be his first trip to the early nominating state since sixteen senior staffers, including his Iowa team, quit the campaign.

But in a sign of more trouble ahead for Gingrich, his fundraising director Jody Thomas and fundraising consultant Mary Heitman quit the campaign on Monday. Christine Hall, who has worked for Gingrich’s organization American Solutions for the past five years, is the new finance director for the campaign. The fundraising quarter ends June 30 and Gingrich will have to file his campaign finance disclosure by July 15, at which point we’ll know if he has the cash to keep his campaign going. “Fundraising’s a challenge. We don’t expect to blow anybody’s doors off with our fundraising reports but what we will have is the resources we need to run the campaign Newt’s setting out to run,” Gingrich spokesman R.C. Hammond told ABC News. And on the Martha Zoller radio show this morning, Gingrich dismissed the notion that his candidacy was on the rocks. “You go through lots of turmoil like this,” he said. I remind people that in July of 2007 Rudy Giuliani was the republican frontrunner. Hillary Clinton was the democratic frontrunner and John McCain’s campaign was considered virtually dead.”


@ GovernorPerry : Rain in Austin last night.....making for an awesome morning. Get out and get the day started right with a good work out!!!


PAWLENTY GOES ON THE AIR IN IOWA. “Presidential candidate Tim Pawlenty will launch an ad campaign in Iowa on Wednesday worth just under $50,000, a sign of the leadoff caucus state's importance to the Pawlenty bid,” ABC’s Matthew Jaffe reports. “‘Governor Pawlenty is well positioned to unite conservatives and do well in both Iowa and New Hampshire. The soon-to-be-unveiled TV ads will introduce the Governor to Iowans about why he is the candidate with the strongest record and best results, not rhetoric,’ says spokesman Alex Conant. The ad campaign, set to run from June 22 to July 3, will air in the following Hawkeye State markets: Cedar Rapids, Des Moines, Omaha, Ottumwa, Rochester, and Sioux City, all part of an effort to drum up support for Pawlenty ahead of the Ames straw poll in August.”

Here’s the script: “A lot of candidates will come to Iowa and say the same things,” Pawlenty says in the spot. “The question is, have they done it? In a liberal state, I reduced spending in real terms for the first time, Took on the government unions and won, Appointed a conservative supreme court. And passed health care reform the right way – no mandates, no takeovers. If I can do it in Minnesota, we can do it in Washington.” Watch the ad:

UNFRIENDLY FIRE: SANTORUM TAKES AIM AT HUNTSMAN. “Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum released a new web ad yesterday, just as Jon Huntsman announced he was entering the race. The ad pokes fun at the former governor of Utah and Ambassador to China -- parodying motorcycle ads the Huntsman camp released in anticipation of today’s presidential announcement,” ABC’s Susan Archer reports. “Specifically, it takes aim at the fact that Huntsman has failed to sign the Susan B. Anthony List’s Pro-Life Pledge, something another contender, Mitt Romney has failed to do. The ad shows a stuntman on a motorcycle riding through a dirt course and reads: “Today. [Huntsman] Hasn’t signed the anti-abortion pledge. Just like Mitt Romney…” It then shows the stuntman flying through the air and taking a spill in the dirt. In a press release the campaign asks ‘Will Huntsman Be ‘Just like Mitt Romney?’ … Santorum, a staunch ‘pro-life’ conservative, has repeatedly touted his record on the issue during his time in the Senate.”

ABC NEWS INVESTIGATES: OBAMA OFFICIALS RETHINK TAXPAYER-FUNDED TRIPS. “The Obama administration has ordered a halt to a decade-long, multi-million dollar program that sent bureaucrats around the world to study foreign highways, but not before one group of officials completes an on-going taxpayer-funded foreign jaunt,” ABC’s Matthew Mosk and Brian Ross report. “U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said late Tuesday that he was suspending the program ‘while [he] personally reviews the way taxpayer dollars have been spent.’ The statement came just hours after ABC News contacted LaHood's office with questions concerning the program. ‘The president has been clear: We must get rid of stupid spending and pointless waste,’ LaHood said in an email to ABC News. ‘Each taxpayer dollar is precious, and there is no excuse for wasting a single one. That's why ... I have suspended this program.’ But LaHood's order came while a group of transportation officials was already abroad and that group plans to continue their itinerary -- studying pavement -- while LaHood studies the value of the program. The group will return June 26, as scheduled, officials said. … The initiative, known as the International Scan Program, has been sending federal and state transportation employees to popular foreign tourist destinations for the past decade with the goal of studying how other countries handle the challenges of running major highway networks. Other trips have been planned to study such issues as motorcycle safety, managing pavement, precast concrete, and adapting to climate change. But the program began prompting questions in recent weeks, as members of Congress learned that a group of transportation officials traveled around the globe – a nine city tour that took them to Australia, Sweden, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Great Britain -- in order to prepare a 76-page report about policies for dealing with billboard advertising.”

GORE: OBAMA HAS ‘NOT MADE THE CASE FOR ACTION’ ON GLOBAL WARMING. “Former Vice President Al Gore is going where few environmentalists — and fellow Democrats — have gone before: criticizing President Barack Obama's record on global warming,” according to a dispatch from the Associated Press’ Dina Capiello. “In a 7,000-word essay for Rolling Stone magazine that will be published Friday, Gore says Obama has failed to stand up for ‘bold action’ on global warming and has made little progress on the problem since the days of Republican President George W. Bush. Bush infuriated environmentalists for resisting mandatory controls on the pollution blamed for climate change, despite overwhelming scientific evidence that the burning of fossil fuels is responsible. While Gore credits Obama's political appointees with making hundreds of changes that have helped move the country ‘forward slightly’ on the climate issue, and acknowledges Obama has been dealing with many other problems, he says the president ‘has simply not made the case for action.’ ‘President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis,’ Gore says. ‘He has not defended the science against the ongoing withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community ... to bring the reality of the science before the public.’ The comments mark a turnaround for the nation's most prominent global warming advocate, whose work on the climate problem has earned him a Nobel Prize and was adapted into an Oscar-winning documentary.”

DEBT TALKS WORRY LOBBYISTS. K Street lobbyists are scrambling to defend industry tax breaks and spending programs from ending up as fodder to reduce the deficit in the debt limit talks led by Vice President Joseph Biden,” Roll Call’s Anna Palmer and Steven T. Dennis note. “A lack of news about the specific cuts under consideration by the close-lipped bipartisan group, coupled with last week's surprising 73-27 Senate vote to eliminate long-sacrosanct ethanol tax subsidies has put lobbyists in a defensive crouch. Congressional negotiators left Tuesday's three-hour meeting without a deal and refused to comment on details of what proposals are under discussion. The lawmakers are slated to meet again today, Thursday and possibly Friday, and they are under pressure to announce at least the framework for a broader deal to give Congress time to digest it before the August recess. They've set a July 1 deadline for themselves. All of that means it's a tense time to be a lobbyist.’ The thing that is really driving people nuts is there is no information,’ one Republican lobbyist said. ‘There is no chatter. ... I think that is driving the nervousness.’”

NOTABLE: BIDEN ON EPILEPSY: ‘WE ARE GOING TO FIND A CURE.’ “While talking Tuesday night about the tragic loss of his first wife and daughter, Vice President Joe Biden assured supporters of Citizens United for Research in Epilepsy (CURE) that a cure is possible,” The Chicago Tribune’s s Erin Meyer reports. “‘I can only image what it's like to stare at your child while their eyes roll back in their head,’ Biden said at Navy Pier's Grand Ballroom. ‘But the truth is, I believe with every fiber of my being that (a cure) is just around the corner.’ Biden was the keynote speaker for the group's annual Chicago event, which included Peter Sagal, host of National Public Radio's ‘Wait Wait … Don't Tell Me.’ … ‘Together we are going to find a cure,’ he said. The vice president credited Susan Axelrod, wife of former White House political adviser David Axelrod. She helped found the organization in 1998. The couple's eldest daughter, Lauren, began having seizures at seven months old. Frustrated by the lack of treatment options, Susan Axelrod and two other mothers started CURE out of their homes. … With almost 900 in attendance, the event brought in about $800,000 to support research and raise awareness.”


@ billburton716 : Huntsman and Romney's desire to w/draw from Afg asap leaves an opening a cand. from the the traditionally hawkish wing of the gop.

@ JillDLawrence : #Huntsman is unconventional & trying to elevate the debate. Shades of McCain-Bradley 2000. Can it work? @thedailybeast

@ samsteinhp : t-paw is very good at coming up with funny names for the health care bill, which will serve him well as president:

@ pwire : So what happened to Sarah Palin's bus tour? Report suggests it's in limbo...

@ gregmcrc : On heels of #Palin movie #theundefeated, @mattklewis launches gr8 book @thequotablerogue. #tcot @sarahpalinusa @c4palin #teaparty


* Jon Hunstman tours an infra-red grills factory in Columbia, S.C. at 1:40 p.m. before meeting with activists and filing for office at the South Carolina Republican Party headquarters in Columbia.

* Newt Gingrich speaks on the Federal Reserve at a breakfast at the Atlanta Press Club's Commerce Club at 7:30 a.m. That evening, he will celebrate his 68th birthday with family and supporters in Atlanta.

* Herman Cain stops at Legend's Grill in Marshalltown, Iowa from noon to 1 p.m., as part of the state's Tea Party Bus Tour. From 2:30-3:30 p.m., Cain will attend a meet-and-greet at the Iowa Falls Fire Department. Then from 4:30-5:30 p.m. he will be at another meet-and-greet, this time at the Royal Cafe in Story City.

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