Obama goes to Pentagon to talk ISIS but Trump looms large

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WASHINGTON (CNN) — For the second time this week, the trappings of executive power will provide a backdrop for President Barack Obama as he fields reporters’ questions — and likely takes another swing at Donald Trump.

Obama is traveling to the Pentagon Thursday for an update on his administration’s battle against ISIS. But he’s opening up the standard post-briefing statement to questions from the press, potentially giving him another chance to weigh in on the contentious race to replace him.

Like his session alongside Singapore’s prime minister in the White House East Room on Tuesday — during which he declared Trump “woefully unprepared” for the role of commander in chief — Obama will rely on the authority of the setting to lend credence to his criticisms of the GOP nominee.

On Tuesday, Obama employed the visuals of a foreign leader’s state visit at the White House to contend that Trump “doesn’t appear to have basic knowledge around critical issues in Europe, in the Middle East, in Asia,” meaning “he’s woefully unprepared to do this job.”

Thursday, Obama will wrap himself in the symbolism of America’s military decision center.

The President has suggested on the campaign trail that no candidate “fully understands the challenges of the job of president until you’ve actually sat at that desk.” And perhaps no setting illustrates the complexities and pitfalls of the presidency better than the Pentagon.

Obama also has the benefit of rising poll numbers. A new CNN/ORC poll finds that they stand at their highest level since just before his second inauguration in 2013.

It will be Obama’s third time traveling to the facility for an ISIS update; he’s also been briefed at the CIA headquarters, the State Department and the Treasury. US military leaders are currently working with Iraqi forces to devise a strategy to retake Mosul from the terror group, as well as bolster security in Baghdad.

The US also announced a campaign this week to go after ISIS in the Libyan city of Sirte, where a power vacuum allowed for terrorist infiltration.

Trump has advocated a harsher approach, suggesting he’d be open to drastically increasing the number of US ground troops while ramping up a bombing campaign.

Some of his proposals have caused concern, even among fellow Republicans. For example, Trump has embraced torture as a method for extracting information from suspected terrorists — a practice Obama banned upon taking office.

Since Obama’s comments Tuesday declaring Trump “unfit” for the job, Republicans have begun expressing fresh worry about their candidate’s ability to run a winning campaign. Anxious party operatives describe a series of missteps — including Trump’s criticism of a Muslim-American couple whose son, an Army captain, was killed in Iraq and denounced the GOP nominee at the Democratic National Convention — as mounting evidence of a rogue candidate.

But none of the party’s leaders have yet heeded Obama’s call Tuesday to withdraw their support for the Republican nominee.

Obama’s remarks on Thursday are his last scheduled event before he and his family depart for their annual summer vacation on Martha’s Vineyard. The Pentagon visit and news conference come on his 55th birthday — not necessarily his favored way of celebrating.

“If that’s something he wanted to do for his birthday is something you’ll have to ask him tomorrow,” joked his spokesman Josh Earnest on Wednesday.