JOHN BRENNAN’S LOVE-HATE RELATIONSHIP WITH DRONES. With President Obama’s CIA nominee, John Brennan, in the spotlight this week, Washington is engaged in a big debate over the ethics of covert drone warfare. But like it or not, “targeted killing” will continue and perhaps even increase in years to come, as National Journal’s Michael Hirsh reports. The more realistic questions to ask about what some Obama administration officials call “the new normal” of warfare are these: Who’s really going to run the drone program—the White House, the Pentagon, or the CIA? And how long is it likely to last? Read more
PANETTA: PLAN TO ARM SYRIANS VETOED BY WHITE HOUSE. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Thursday said that a plan to arm carefully-vetted Syrian rebels—developed by former CIA Director David Petraeus and backed by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton—was ultimately vetoed by the White House, The New York Times reports. The remarks, under questioning from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., in testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, were the first admission that such a plan existed. The Times had earlier reported that the plan, which Panetta supported, was rejected due to election-year politics and concerns that weapons could fall into the wrong hands, but Panetta says he supports the administration’s decision. Read more
WHY GOP RESISTANCE IS WANING ON MEDICAID EXPANSION. Jan Brewer, Arizona’s feisty Republican governor, is better known for wagging her finger at Obama than for linking arms with him. That’s why Brewer’s recent announcement that her state should join the expansion of Medicaid central to Obama’s health care law may represent an important shift, as National Journal’s Ronald Brownstein reports. The important factor: Money. Under the health care law, Washington will pay all of the expansion’s cost for the first three years, and eventually 90 percent, far more than it contributes in the existing state-federal split for Medicaid costs. Read more
THE FIRST PRICE TAGS ON CLIMATE CHANGE. Back in the 1980s, when then-Rep. Al Gore first sounded the alarm about climate change, it was a frightening specter, but it sounded far off, like someone else’s future. Now that future has started to arrive. Scientists, economists and financial-world players agree that we’re now starting to experience measurable, real-world effects of climate change. And it’s hitting Americans where they notice it first: in the wallet. From higher food costs to threats to vital infrastructure to spikes in insurance claims, climate change is quantifiably slowing economic growth, raising government spending, and creating new layers of risk and uncertainty for investors, as National Journal’s Coral Davenport reports. Read more
RUBIO’S SOTU REBUTTAL COULD BE TALL ORDER. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida declared himself “honored” to be asked to give the Republican response to President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday night. Given the sorry history of partisan rebuttals to presidential speeches, though, he just might want to reconsider, writes National Journal’s George E. Condon. In the 47 years since Republicans hatched the idea, Rubio is the 120th officeholder to tackle what most politicians consider an impossible task: to try to top a president of the United States on a night when the perks of the office are very much on display. Read more
WHY TED CRUZ WILL NOT BE QUIET. Ted Cruz has been a U.S. senator for little more than a month, but the Texas Republican has already thrown himself into the scrum on guns, immigration, and Cabinet confirmations. Cruz, 42, is not the first senator to seek the spotlight from day one. Two other tea-party freshmen—Marco Rubio of Florida and Rand Paul of Kentucky—had similar arrivals in 2010. But Cruz’s early exploits are unusually loud and aggressive and show where conservatives believe the path to power now lies: Ambitious members no longer rise by sitting silently in their early years, laboring in committee rooms, and strolling Capitol corridors. Read more
FILM DIRECTOR JOINS SENATORS TO TOUT MENTAL-HEALTH BILL. The Oscar-nominated director of the film Silver Linings Playbook joined a bipartisan group of senators Thursday to announce a mental health bill. The bill, prompted by December’s Newtown school massacre in Connecticut, would aim to strengthen treatment at the community level, The Hill reports. Director David O. Russell joined its sponsor, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., along with Sens. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Jack Reed, D-R.I., and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., at a press conference unveiling the legislation. Russell discussed his 19-year-old son, who attends a school in Connecticut for children with Asperger’s syndrome and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The bill would cost $1.4 billion over 10 years. Read more
REPORT: PLEA DEAL WOULD LAND JESSE JACKSON JR. IN JAIL. Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., would serve “significant jail time” under a plea deal being offered by federal authorities in their investigation into his use of campaign funds, an unnamed source tells The Chicago Sun-Times. Jackson, who resigned from Congress, is under federal investigation for using $40,000 in campaign contributions to allegedly buy himself a Rolex. His wife, Sandi, is reportedly the subject of a separate probe. Read more
HILL STAFFER TWEETS ‘ME LIKEY BROKE GIRLS,’ GETS FIRED. On Twitter, 14 seconds can be a lifetime—long enough even to get someone fired. That’s how long a tweet from Idaho Republican Rep. Raul Labrador’s account lasted before being taken down. Unfortunately for the guy who reportedly tweeted it, longtime spokesman Phil Hardy, it was out there long enough for him to lose his job, according to The Idaho Statesman. Hardy sent the tweet during a Super Bowl promotion for the show Two Broke Girls, in which the title characters wore skimpy outfits and pole-danced. Read more
REID’S HOMETOWN LANDMARKS UP FOR SALE. The main properties of tiny Searchlight, Nev., the hometown of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, are up for sale, the Associated Press reports. “The 88-year-old woman who owns the Searchlight Nugget casino, a motel and a former brothel, says she's ready to retire to Montana,” the AP reports. The town, about an hour south of Las Vegas, is home to 539 people. Locals are hoping a soon-to-open gold mine might improve the town’s prospects. Read more
OBAMA TELLS DEMS HE WANTS ‘BIG DEAL’ ON DEFICIT. President Obama, addressing House Democrats at their retreat in Virginia Thursday, said “I am prepared, eager and anxious to do a big deal, a big package that ends this governance by crisis,” Bloomberg reported. He said that negotiations with Republicans over the sequester cuts set to hit in March should not deter from a big plan to slash government debt. Earlier in the week, Obama sought a postponement to the sequester cuts, an offer Republicans rejected. Read more
OBAMA TO HOUSE DEMS: IMMIGRATION MAY BE TOUGH. In the same speech to House Democrats, President Obama emphasized the importance of immigration reform. “Obviously economic growth is a priority. But making sure that we’re opening up opportunity for everybody is also important. And that's why immigration reform is so critical,” he said to applause. “I recognize that the politics aren’t always easy. There are regional variations. I understand that in some places this may end up being a tough issue. But what I also know is that part of our strength is our youth and our dynamism, and our history for attracting talent from all around the globe.”THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS POLITICAL CAPITAL. For about 60 minutes this Tuesday, Obama will lay out a sprawling and ambitious wish list highlighted by gun control and immigration reform, climate change and debt reduction. In response, the pundits will do what they always do this time of year: They will talk about how unrealistic most of the proposals are, discussions often informed by sagacious reckonings of how much “political capital” Obama possesses to push his program through. Most of this talk will have no bearing on what actually happens over the next four years, as National Journal’s Michael Hirsh explains. Read more
CARNEY: OBAMA CONCERNED THAT SEQUESTER MAY KICK IN. White House press secretary Jay Carney blasted Speaker John Boehner’s hard line on the sequester in his chat with reporters Thursday, saying the speaker’s list of cuts that would have to pass before he would agree to buy down the sequester are “terrible” and would force seniors and the middle class to pay while letting the wealthy off the hook. “They sort of fly in the face of this whole apparent effort, which seems to be a public-relations effort and not a policy effort, to change the way the Republican Party is viewed on these matters,” he said.
BIDEN HEADS TO PENNSYLVANIA MONDAY TO TALK GUNS. The White House announced Thursday that Vice President Joe Biden will spend Monday discussing gun-control measures with law enforcement officials in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania Democrats, Sen. Robert Casey and Reps. Robert Brady, Chaka Fattah, and Allyson Schwartz will also attend, along with U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole.
DEMPSEY ‘SURPRISED’ CLINTON DIDN’T SEE BENGHAZI CABLE. At a hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey said he was “surprised” that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton didn’t know of a cable warning of threats to the U.S. mission in Benghazi. As a result, the State Department didn’t ask for more security for the Benghazi consulate and the military didn’t provide it. In her hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Clinton said those type of cables don’t ordinarily come to her desk. “An independent review board appointed by Clinton found the State Department showed ‘a lack of proactive leadership and management ability,’ though it said no government employees violated their duties,” Bloomberg reported. Read more
IRAN AIRS FOOTAGE ALLEGEDLY FROM CAPTURED U.S. DRONES. On Thursday, Iranian state television aired footage claiming to be cribbed from a downed American surveillance drone. The Iranians seized the drone in December 2011, then claimed to have reverse-engineered it and created the possibility to produce a version of their own. The footage aired shows grainy pictures and video of Iranian planes, occasionally in negative color and set to dramatic music. Read more
U.N. DRONE INVESTIGATOR GIVES BRENNAN UNLIKELY SUPPORT. As the United Nations investigates drone strikes and targeted killings, the head of the U.N. investigation, Ben Emmerson, gave “his qualified backing” to John Brennan as the next CIA director in an interview with Wired. Emmerson told the publication he believes Brennan will rein in drone strikes if he is confirmed as the CIA’s chief. “It’s an unlikely endorsement,” Wired reports, since Emmerson has made no secret of the fact that he won’t hesitate to investigate U.S. war crimes if he uncovers them. Read more
ANALYSIS: GOP’S DISDAIN FOR COMPROMISE EXPLAINS PARTY’S PROBLEMS. Only 36 percent of Republicans told the Pew Research Center that they like elected officials who make compromises with people they disagree with. Among conservative Republicans, twice as many prefer politicians who stick to their guns than those who compromise (60 percent versus 31 percent). Those numbers are largely unchanged from two years ago. By contrast, 50 percent of all Americans say they like leaders who compromise, up 10 points from 2011. Democrats and independents are increasingly open-minded. These findings suggest that that the Republican Party is hostage to a hardheaded electorate that won't let its leaders practice the basic art of politics, as National Journal’s Ron Fournier reports. Read more
OBAMA AND DEMOCRATS MAKE UP. At first glance, it's not surprising that President Obama has decided to raise cash for Democratic lawmakers and potential candidates vying for office in 2014. After all, it's very much in the president's interest. If he wants to enact his policies, he'll need to keep the Senate in Democratic hands and help his party win back the House. But there's more to the story. Obama has earned a reputation for not paying close enough attention to Hill Democrats. The Atlantic just this week tallied nine headlines that catalogued Democratic frustration with the president. So Obama’s move could be a sign he is mending fences. Read more
OBAMA APPROVAL DOWN TO 46 PERCENT; HILLARY MOST POPULAR. Obama’s job-approval rating stands at 46 percent, down from 53 percent in December, in a Quinnipiac poll released this morning. It found 45 percent of voters disapprove of his job performance. A majority of voters, 51 percent, still view the president favorably. But the most important national figure is former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is viewed favorably by 61 percent of voters and unfavorably by 34 percent. House Speaker John Boehner is viewed favorably by only a fifth of voters, while 42 percent view him unfavorably. Two-thirds of voters don’t know enough about former Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., the president’s embattled nominee for secretary of Defense, to form an opinion about him. Read more
CHRISTIE APPROVAL RATING REMAINS HIGH, BUT NOT ON ECONOMY. Just over two weeks after a Quinnipiac University poll pegged New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s job approval rating at 74 percent, a new Rutgers-Eagleton poll reaffirmed that rating by giving the Republican an approval mark of 73 percent. The leading Democratic challenger in the November election, state Sen. Barbara Buono, on the other hand, remains little-known in the Garden State. Christie also sports a 70 percent favorability rating, an uptick of 3 percentage points from the last poll conducted in November. Read more
2012 HISPANIC SUPPORT FOR OBAMA WAS NO SURE THING. President Obama beat GOP nominee Mitt Romney by 44 percentage points among Latinos, 71 percent to 27 percent, exceeding the 67 percent of the Latino vote he won in 2008 over John McCain. Obama’s popularity among Hispanics since Election Day remains impressive. But as recently as a year ago, one might not have guessed this would happen, writes The Cook Political Report’s Charlie Cook. In January 2012, Obama’s approval rating among Latinos stood at only 55 percent, 12 points below his share of the 2008 Latino vote. In other words, Obama’s big electoral win among Latino voters was not a foregone conclusion. Read more
OBAMA RESETS CLIMATE CHANGE EXPECTATIONS. After making an impassioned inaugural pledge to fight climate change, President Obama will need to use Tuesday’s State of the Union address to tell Congress and the American people how he plans to take it on. In his first term, Obama rarely spoke about the urgent nature of climate change and how difficult—politically and economically—the problem will be to solve. Instead, he optimistically promised millions of new green jobs. Now his rhetoric is changing. He is laying the groundwork for Americans to understand the scope of the crisis and the difficulty of a solution that’s unlikely to include any action by Congress. It’s not an easy message, but it is more honest, as National Journal’s Coral Davenport reports. Read more
KERRY TO MEET WITH CANADIAN COUNTERPART ON KEYSTONE TODAY. Newly sworn-in Secretary of State John Kerry will hold his first bilateral meeting today with Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, and the Keystone XL pipeline is on the agenda, The Hill reports. “I have no doubt that that subject will come up because it always does with our Canadian counterparts,” a State Department spokeswoman said. The Canadian government supports the pipeline, which would carry oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to American refineries, and State Department approval is the only remaining barrier to its construction. Kerry and Bair will also discuss trade and security, among other issues. Read more
ECONOMY & BUDGET
AND YOU THOUGHT RYAN’S LAST BUDGET WAS TOUGH? Rep. Paul Ryan’s most recent spending proposal—the aggressive one for which liberals caricatured him as a granny-killer—promised to balance the federal budget in less than 30 years. That, the Wisconsin Republican now says, was not enough. With the blessing of the House leadership, his proposal this spring will get the job done in just 10 years. It’s either an ingenious way to cast the GOP as the party most able to straighten America’s ledger or a nightmare that will thwart the party’s makeover and alienate midterm voters, as National Journal’s Nancy Cook reports. Read more
CONGRESS JEALOUSLY COVETS SPENDING POWER. Some dogged defense hawks hope to pry spending authority from appropriators’ hands, National Journal’s Stacy Kaper reports, but that’s going to be a tough climb. Analysts warn that across-the-board sequestration cuts are not the best way to protect our national security, so an idea is brewing among lawmakers — mostly Republicans so far — to give Pentagon planners more discretion to decide what to cut and what to keep, at least temporarily. The Defense Department wouldn’t be able to close bases, cancel F-35s, or retire cruisers. But if it had more money than it needed for health benefits, say, and not enough to buy fuel, it could shift the money around. Needless to say, grabbing the purse strings away from members of Congress will not be easy. Read more
MENENDEZ, BOXER TRY AGAIN ON HOMEOWNER REFI. Sens. Robert Menendez D-N.J., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., on Thursday reintroduced legislation that had been previously backed by President Obama as part of an effort to help homeowners refinance at lower rates and save thousands of dollars each year. The current average rate for a 30-year mortgage is near historic lows—3.53 percent, and the senators argue that about 12 million homeowners with loans guaranteed by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac could benefit from refinancing. The new proposal would increase the amount of savings for homeowners, who on average save about $2,500 per year under the current administration plan.
OBAMA RENOMINATES TAVENNER FOR CMS. Obama nominated Marilyn Tavenner to head the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Thursday. Tavenner, who has served as acting administrator since 2006, was nominated for the post in 2011, but the Senate never took up her confirmation. The agency will oversee the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. A bevy of health groups applauded the nomination in statements Thursday. Tavenner has also won praise in the past from key congressional Republicans, including Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Eric Cantor, R-Va., though neither has yet publicly stated support for her confirmation.
FOR HEALTH REFORM TO WORK, THE WHITE HOUSE NEEDS LATINOS. President Obama won reelection in part because of a wave of Latino voters. To make his signature health care initiative work as planned, he needs them again. That’s because even if the Health and Human Services Department pulls off a seamless implementation of health reform, the system simply won’t work if people don’t enroll in new insurance plans—and Latinos represent a large share of the uninsured with low rates of participation in government programs. Read more
BISHOPS STILL NOT SATISFIED WITH CONTRACEPTIVE RULE. In a widely expected move Thursday, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops rejected the Obama administration’s latest rule regarding contraception, The New York Times reports. The rule, which relaxes requirements for religious and religious-affiliated institutions to pay for contraception, was intended to satisfy complaints about coverage from the religious community. “Throughout the past year, we have been assured by the administration that we will not have to refer, pay for, or negotiate for the mandated coverage,” said Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York. “We remain eager for the administration to fulfill that pledge and to find acceptable solutions—we will affirm any genuine progress that is made, and we will redouble our efforts to overcome obstacles or setbacks.” Read more
CMS LAUDS AFFORFABLE CARE ACT. Millions of those on Medicare experienced lower costs on prescription drugs in 2012 because of the Affordable Care Act, according to an annual report from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released Thursday. Closing the Part D donut hole saved 6.1 million Americans more than $5.7 billion, the report said. Drug savings also increased from 2011, as did the use of preventive care services. Read the report here.
HOW KASICH CONVINCED OPPONENTS ON MEDICAID. Ohio’s Republican Gov. John Kasich spent the last few months cultivating odd allies to aid his push to support the Medicaid expansion, The Washington Post reports. Working with “Obamacare” supporters and opponents, his administration pieced together a lobbying campaign to sell businesses and state legislators on the merits of the Medicaid expansion. “We knew for the extension to even be a possibility, there needed to be a better understanding of it,” said Kasich communications director Scott Milburn. “That case needed to be made by stakeholders on the front lines. Once they got going, it became a persuasive argument. Their ongoing partnership on this is highly valued.” Read more
(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. On Thursday, The Onion “broke” a story that outgoing Energy Secretary Steven Chu woke up hung over next to a solar panel. Chu immediately took to Facebook, jokingly saying he will not “confirm or deny the charges specifically,” but that his decision to step down “has absolutely nothing to do with the allegations.” Read more)
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