TPM News

President Obama made an surprise stop in Afghanistan today, his first visit to the war zone since moving into the White House. The one-day visit, which lasted a total of about 6 hours, included talks with Afghan president Hamid Karzai and his government, which the U.S. sees as key to completing its mission in Afghanistan on on the timetable Obama outlined in December. While on the ground, Obama also addressed U.S. troops and met with American commanders.

Air Force One touched down at Bagram Air Force Base overnight, after leaving Andrews Air Force base under cover of secrecy on Saturday. Accompanying Obama on the trip were members of Obama's national security team, including members of the White House national security team, including National Security Adviser Jim Jones. The White House said the trip had been planned since Thursday, but told reporters the flight was unannounced "for security reasons."

Obama and Afghan president Hamid Karzai appeared briefly before reporters in Kabul, where the Obama announced that Karzai will visit the U.S. for more talks next month.

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After months of fighting separate battles for the hearts and minds of Florida Republicans, Marco Rubio and Charlie Crist met on Fox News Sunday this morning, their first debate of the GOP primary. During 40 heated minutes moderated by FNS' Chris Wallace, Crist showed that he won't go quietly, despite the polls, and is willing now to run on the moderate record he tried to distance himself from as recently as October.

Crist came into the debate with the most to prove, having seen his once sure-thing candidacy devolve into an insurgent challenge against Rubio, who has become the poster boy for the most vocal Republicans on the right this year. Crist tried to tear down that image, claiming that Rubio is not the man conservatives think he is.

Rubio had a familiar response to Crist's taunts: At least I'm not the kind of guy who hugs President Obama.

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Obama: 'We're A Nation Still Capable Of Doing Big Things' In this weekend's YouTube address, President Obama touted the achievements of the past week, with the passage of reforms to the country's health care system and student loan program.

"Education. Health care. Two of the most important pillars of a strong America grew stronger this week," said Obama. "These achievements don't represent the end of our challenges; nor do they signify the end of the work that faces our country. But what they do represent is real and major reform. What they show is that we're a nation still capable of doing big things. What they prove is what's possible when we can come together to overcome the politics of the moment; push back on the special interests; and look beyond the next election to do what's right for the next generation."

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The office of Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) is pushing back against criticism of the congressman's dramatic press conference Thursday in which he claimed that his Richmond campaign office was shot at -- only hours before police said that a bullet had penetrated the window, but not the blinds, of the office on a downward trajectory, after someone fired into the air.

Cantor's spokesman is now claiming in media interviews that Cantor didn't know that the bullet was randomly fired when he revealed the incident on national television Thursday.

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The Democratic National Committee says that Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele has declined to sign on to a joint statement written by DNC Chairman Tim Kaine that condemns threats made to members of Congress from both parties. The draft text of the statement says that while Steele and Kaine disagree on the health care bill, they would "together call on elected officials of both parties to set an example of the civility we want to see in our citizenry" and ask "all Americans to respect differences of opinion, to refrain from inappropriate forms of intimidation, to reject violence and vandalism, and to scale back rhetoric that might reasonably be misinterpreted by those prone to such behavior."

DNC spokesman Brad Woodhouse told reporters that Kaine sent the letter to Steele today and then phoned him asking the chairman to release a joint bipartisan statement "condemning the threats and acts of vandalism over the past week, calling for an end to such tactics and urging a more civil tone in our politics." "This afternoon, Chairman Steele, through staff, declined Chairman Kaine's offer," Woodhouse said.

RNC spokesman Doug Heye told TPMDC that Steele did reject the request. He said Steele was among the first to condemn threats in an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press" with Kaine last weekend.

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As the health care debate came to its conclusion this week, the high-running emotions of many finally crested, taking the form of threats and acts of vandalism at the offices of several lawmakers, most of them Democrats. Here, a roundup:

The FBI is investigating a severed gas line at the home of Rep. Tom Perriello's (D-VA) brother. A local tea party group had posted the brother's address online, thinking it was Perriello's and calling for a protest there.

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Sarah Palin just campaigned for Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), the man who made her a national star when he selected her as his running mate for vice president in 2008 -- their first appearance together since the 2008 campaign ended.

McCain is being opposed in the Republican primary by former Rep. J.D. Hayworth, who is seeking to mobilize Tea Party movement support by casting McCain as an establishment moderate Republican. But Palin, herself a beloved figure among Tea Partiers, declared: "Everyone here today supporting John McCain, we are all part of that Tea Party movement."

Palin also joked: "When you talk about that Tea Party movement, some would claim John was there at that first Tea Party movement. (Crowd laughs. John McCain laughs.) And I'm kidding. But I've gotta remind people, before there were protests in the street or marches on Capitol Hill, there was the maverick fighting for us."

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