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Obama Paints Congress as the Obstacle


OBAMA PAINTS CONGRESS AS THE OBSTACLE. President Obama on Tuesday challenged Congress to find a way to dodge the sequester and seize the opportunity for more-enduring deficit reduction, using his fourth State of the Union address (full text and video) to paint lawmakers as the obstacle to a more prosperous and inclusive country. On fiscal matters, immigration reform, and gun control, Obama depicted Congress—and Republicans, specifically—as the stumbling block. And yet, citing a “decade of grinding war” and the “grueling recession,” Obama said, “Together, we have cleared away the rubble of crisis, and can say with renewed confidence that the state of our union is stronger.” Read more


NOTHING BIG OR BOLD IN OBAMA’S SPEECH. Rather than go big and bold, Obama settled Tuesday night for incremental and pragmatic, National Journal’s Ron Fournier writes. For all his swagger and political capital, the president subtly acknowledged the limits of what he can accomplish—even while promising in his State of the Union address to create “a rising, thriving middle class.” His speech lacked the moon-shot vibe you’d expect from a president courting greatness. Indeed, the agenda he discussed Tuesday night was a mixture of old proposals and new ones fashioned on the cheap, bowing to the obstinacy of his GOP rivals and the brutal fiscal reality of the times. Read more

RUBIO AND THE POWER OF SPANISH. Two months after a presidential election in which Hispanics overwhelmingly rejected Republican nominee Mitt Romney, Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio’s high-profile appearance on Spanish-language networks in his response to the State of the Union (full text and video)  is another sign of his party's reckoning with an increasingly diverse electorate. It also showcased a major advantage for the Cuban-American senator or any other Spanish-speaking candidates over their potential presidential rivals in 2016. "Mr. President, I still live in the same working-class neighborhood I grew up in,” Rubio said, making it personal by referring to his heavily Hispanic hometown of West Miami. “My neighbors aren’t millionaires. They’re retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare.” Read more

THE STATE OF THE UNION, WORD BY WORD. A close analysis of the texts of the addresses prepared for last night by Obama and Rubio reveals both favored the word "more." Obama also favored "jobs," while Rubio said the word "government" most often. The result? Two word clouds with more than a hint of irony. But National Journal's Matthew Cooper is quick to point out there were quite a few words missing from Obama’s speech, too: Iraq. Famine. Sudan. Moon. Mars. Assault rifles. Keystone XL. Videogames. Clinton. Fracking. The president is explicit at times saying he wants this or that—a higher minimum wage, a “National Energy Trust”—and at other times it’s more obtuse, deliberately so. As Cooper points out, omissions can mean as much as commissions. Read more


HAGEL WINS COMMITTEE APPROVAL, NOMINATION HEADS TO FLOOR. In a contentious vote filled with pointed barbs, Obama’s nominee for Defense secretary, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, narrowly won approval from the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday afternoon, The New York Times reports. Ahead of the vote, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., accused freshman Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, of being “over the line” in his criticism of Hagel, including suggestions that Hagel had accepted money from nations such as North Korea. At one point, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., stepped in to admonish Cruz. In the end, Hagel was approved on a 14-11 party-line vote. Some senators, including James Inhofe, R-Okla., have threatened to block the nomination, but The Times notes that at least 60 senators have now indicated they intend to vote for Hagel. Read more


‘HASTERT RULE’ HISTORY OFFERS HOPE FOR DEMS.  If two decades of history are a guide, House Speaker John Boehner will allow votes in the next two years on only a handful of bills opposed by a majority of House Republicans, as National Journal’s Jill Lawrence writes. And yet, the rationale for blocking Obama at every turn is gone, since he can’t run for reelection again. There may also be a rationale for compromise, given the level of alarm within the GOP after the elections. That opens up the possibility of three to five additional votes on bills that don’t have majority GOP support, opportunities for Obama and for Democrats. Read more

BOEHNER UNPLUGGED: FROM ‘FOREPLAY’ TO SEQUESTER, SPEAKER HAS SAY. House Speaker John Boehner is a poker-playing legislator who appreciates foreplay. And he’s been in the game so long that his definition of foreplay is a subcommittee markup, as National Journal’s Major Garrett reports. The context is immigration, and Boehner is certain a deal will be struck in this Congress. Among the other nuggets to emerge from a 46-minute interview Boehner gave to correspondents and TV anchors hours before the State of the Union address Tuesday: The sequester will happen March 1 unless Senate Democrats pass an alternative backed by Obama, tax reform is dead, and gun control is on life support. Read more


MEET THE MAN WHO BROUGHT TED NUGENT TO THE SOTU. Congress has always had its share of provocateurs. But amid the hoopla surrounding Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday, there may have emerged a new “king of the hill” for flame-throwing attacks and attention-seeking activities: Rep. Steve Stockman, R-Texas. Stockman—elected in November to a new House seat after serving a single term 16 years ago as part of the 1994 Republican revolution—does not dispute that he’s drawn a lot of attention since returning to Washington. He says that’s neither been intentional nor, in his view, regrettable, because he is not bashful about his conservatism, as National Journal’s Billy House reports. Read more

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM LETS HIS CONSERVATIVE FLAG FLY. Normally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is the “Republican that liberals love to like,” writes Politico. His high-profile deviations from the party line on a number of issues, particularly immigration, mean the Democrats can play ball with him. But Graham is on a “conservative hot streak” on issues from guns to national security. He helped scuttle U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice’s potential nomination for secretary of State. He said former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “got away with murder” after the terrorist attack in Benghazi. And he’s been the harshest voice on recent Senate panel hearings with Defense secretary-designate Chuck Hagel and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey. Read more    

SENATE REAUTHORIZES VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT. The long-delayed bill, which Obama name-checked in his State of the Union address Tuesday, passed, 78-22, on Tuesday, The Hill reports. And while a group of 17 House Republicans have written a letter urging leadership to bring a bipartisan bill to the floor, it’s unclear what the legislation’s future holds in that chamber. Read more

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SENATORS TO BRIEF OBAMA ON IMMIGRATION TALKS. Four Democratic senators working on a bipartisan overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws will brief Obama, Bloomberg reports. Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Chuck Schumer of New York, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, and Michael Bennet of Colorado will meet with the president Wednesday, according to an aide. Prior to that confab between senators and Obama, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano will address the Senate Judiciary Committee about comprehensive immigration reform at a hearing this morning. Other notable witnesses included Steve Case, the former CEO of AOL, and Janet Murguia, the president and CEO of the National Council of La Raza. Read more


OBAMA GIVES NATION RUBRIC ON WHICH TO MEASURE HIS SUCCESS. Laundry lists are popular, and this State of the Union address from President Obama is going to be valuable, writes National Journal’s Jill Lawrence. By laying out his hopes for a second term, Obama provides a yardstick by which to measure him. When Obama leaves office, will we have universal preschool, cheaper college, redesigned high schools, a better tax code, a revamped immigration system, and a $9 minimum wage tied to inflation? Will there be more manufacturing, easier voting, a trade agreement with the European Union, trims to Medicare and Social Security, a declining debt? These are his goals and he will be judged accordingly. Read more

FIFTY-THREE PERCENT OF VIEWERS REACT POSITIVELY TO SOTU. Fifty-three percent of Americans who watched the State of the Union address said they had a very positive reaction to the speech, according to a CNN/ORC International poll taken last night. About 24 percent of the 393 viewers surveyed said they had a somewhat positive response, and 22 percent had a negative response, though poll experts warn the audiences for these events tend to be more open to the ideas of the president speaking. Just 39 percent said the address would lead to more bipartisan cooperation. Read more

OBAMA HEADS TO ASHEVILLE. Fresh off his State of the Union address last night, President Obama will today head to Asheville, N.C., to speak at the auto-parts maker Linamar, The Asheville Citizen-Times reports. The trip, his fourth to the Tar Heel State, will rally support for the proposals he outlined in last night’s speech. Linamar, a Canadian company that moved to Asheville in 2011, is currently working to triple its workforce. Read more

HOW MANY SOTU CLICHES DID OBAMA USE? State of the Union addresses are rarely memorable, in part because they’re basically laundry lists of proposals combined with a memo about where the country stands. In fact, between Thomas Jefferson and William Howard Taft, presidents didn’t give a State of the Union speech. They just sent their assessment of the country’s condition up to Capitol Hill. Woodrow Wilson was the first to give an address. And the speech didn’t really become a big deal until Lyndon Johnson moved it from noon to prime time in 1965. Take a look at our list of the most common hack lines and bromides, and see how many of these overused clichés Obama managed to hit during last night’s broadcast. Read more 


OBAMA DETAILS AFGHAN DRAWDOWN. Obama pledged to reduce the size of the U.S. force in Afghanistan by more than half by this time next year, a decision welcomed by Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who says Afghanistan is on track to assume responsibility for security by the end of 2014. While the U.S. is still negotiating an agreement for a follow-on force, the impending drawdown of 34,000 troops was already met with resistance by some defense hawks on Capitol Hill. "This approach seems to be needlessly fraught with risk,” House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., said. In his State of the Union speech, Obama also committed to doing "what is necessary" to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and warned North Korea, which this week conducted a nuclear test in violation of United Nations resolutions, to cease its provocations. Read more

IRAN CLAIMS IT WILL RESTRICT WEAPON-READY URANIUM STOCKPILES. Iran said Tuesday it has decided to convert a portion of its enriched uranium into reactor fuel. If it follows through, the move would restrict the expansion of stockpiles that could be converted to nuclear weapons. The announcement came one day before Iranian officials are scheduled to meet with the deputy director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog group. And later this month, Iranian officials will sit down with the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France, and Germany to discuss curbs to their nuclear enrichment program. Read more

U.N. CONDEMNS NORTH KOREAN NUCLEAR TEST. The world learned more about North Korea’s reported nuclear-weapons test Tuesday. The Atlantic Wire reports the weapon likely used plutonium, not uranium, and another test could be coming soon. Foreign Policy looks at the Obama administration’s Asia leadership team, and notes the dearth of Korea experts. The United Nations Security Council met Tuesday morning in an emergency session to discuss the incident. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the test as deplorable, according to Reuters, and said it would work on “appropriate actions.” Read more

SYRIAN REBELS SCORE ANOTHER KEY VICTORY. Syrian rebels tallied another victory Tuesday, capturing a military airbase in northern Syria a day after overtaking a vital dam, which gave rebels control of much of the country’s water and electricity supplies. According to the Associated Press, the coup was an indication that rebel forces might be solidifying control over the formerly heavily-contested northern swath of the country. Read more


TEA PARTY RESPONSE: PAUL WANTS GOP TO EMBRACE IMMIGRANTS. The ideas in the tea party response from Sen. Rand Paul were not entirely new to the Kentucky Republican, Roll Call reports. He used his address to say Republicans should embrace immigrants, and to call on Washington to curb spending. “We are the party that embraces hard work and ingenuity, therefore we must be the party that embraces the immigrant who wants to come to America for a better future,” he said. “We must be the party who sees immigrants as assets, not liabilities. We must be the party that says, ‘If you want to work, if you want to become an American, we welcome you.” Paul has said in the past he supports an eventual path to citizenship, but his inclusion of the idea in such a high-profile address suggests immigration reform could pass the Senate. Read more

EX-NAVY SEAL ENTERS MASS. SENATE RACE. Former U.S. Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez on Tuesday became the second Republican candidate to declare his candidacy in the Massachusetts special Senate election. “I’m running because I refuse to be cynical about America or about America’s future. Certainly, people will say, ‘This can't be fixed.’ But sending career politicians to do the job would be the same old, same old,” he said in a statement. Gomez’s entry sets up a primary battle with state Rep. Dan Winslow, who announced he was running last week. The two Republicans have to turn in 10,000 certified signatures from voters by Feb. 27 to qualify for the April 30 primary. Read more

ARK. LT. GOV. NOT RUNNING TO BE TOP DOG, ENDORSES EX-U.S. REP. Arkansas Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr ended speculation about his own 2014 gubernatorial ambitions Tuesday by endorsing former GOP Rep. Asa Hutchinson. Darr was considered the biggest potential primary rival for Hutchinson. His endorsement is another sign of state Republicans rallying around Hutchinson, who is largely considered the front-runner, though he has said he won’t officially announce his candidacy until after he has wrapped up a study on school safety for the National Rifle Association. Read more

DEM REP. SEEKING HARKIN’S SEAT TO CONTINUE HIS LEGACY. As Iowans prepare to elect their first new senator in 30 years, Rep. Bruce Braley, D-Iowa, wants them to know he intends to carry on the mantle of the man he’s seeking to replace, retiring Democratic Sen. Tom Harkin. “I’d be honored if anybody considered me as following in the mold of Tom Harkin,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday, describing himself as “a Democrat who can walk in and pick up his legacy.” Democrats say Braley, much like Harkin, is a strong progressive voice. But Braley said he realizes the need to reach out to voters of all ideological persuasions. “I understand the concerns of all Iowans,” Braley said. Read more


OBAMA USES URGENT LANGUAGE ON CLIMATE CHANGE. In urgent rhetoric that named climate change not as a future threat but a crisis that has arrived, Obama called on Congress to enact legislation to cut carbon pollution and increase clean energy production in his State of the Union address. But he acknowledged that action from Capitol Hill is highly unlikely on such a contentious issue, and declared, "If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will." One thing he did not mention: the Keystone XL pipeline. Read more

N.Y. DELAYS FRACKING APPROVAL OVER PUBLIC HEALTH CONCERNS. New York State Health Commissioner Nirav Shah has indefinitely postponed approval of hydraulic fracturing in the state, saying on Tuesday that his department needs more time to review its potential health impact, The Albany Times-Union reported. “The time to ensure the impacts on public health are properly considered is before a state permits drilling,” Shah wrote in a letter to Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Joe Martens, who commissioned the review. The announcement comes hours after environmental groups — cognizant of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s presidential ambitions — ran a full-page ad in The Des Moines Register urging Cuomo not to permit fracking in his state. Read more

U.S. APPROVES CHINESE PURCHASE OF CANADIAN OIL FIRM. The Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. approved the acquisition of Canadian oil-sands miner Nexen by a Chinese state-owned energy company, Nexen announced on Tuesday. The $15.1 billion deal was subject to review by the federal government because of Nexen’s holdings in the Gulf of Mexico. Chinese firms have been finding more success of late in acquiring U.S. assets, The Wall Street Journal reported. Read more


LEW HEARING TO FOCUS ON CITI BONUS AND BUDGETS. The Senate Finance Committee will today vet Jack Lew, Obama's nominee to lead the U.S. Treasury Department. On the docket for debate? A $940,000 bonus the former White House Chief of Staff received after a short tenure at Citigroup, just before the bank received a bailout from the federal government, Reuters reports. Lew will also face questions about his time as chief operating officer of Citi Alternative Investments. Though there is no widespread opposition to his nomination, the confirmation hearing will put a spotlight on some of the budget battles that have plagued Washington in recent years. Read more

U.S. POSTED BUDGET SURPLUS IN JANUARY. The U.S. posted its first January surplus in five years, The Wall Street Journal reported. The surplus for the month was $2.88 billion, compared with a deficit of $27.41 billion in January 2012. The figures, from the Treasury Department, showed receipts jumped 16 percent, based on several factors, including a hike in employees’ payroll tax rates that resulted from the tax holiday at the end of last year. Another reason for the spike was a late-breaking deal on the fiscal cliff that delayed the start of tax-filing season; billions of dollars of payments that normally would have gone out did not. Read more

RETAIL SALES WILL LIKELY SHOW RISE IN JANUARY. Sales at retail outlets likely rose in January on an improving job market, according to experts, Bloomberg reports. The expected increase of 0.1 percent would come on the heels of a 0.5 percent jump in December. “The longer-term prognosis here is a little bit better,” Michael Brown, an economist at Wells Fargo Securities LLC, told Bloomberg. “We are starting to see personal income grow a little bit due to additional job creation.” The Commerce Department will release figures at 8:30 a.m. today. Read more

SEC NOMINEE DISCLOSES PERSONAL WEALTH. Mary Jo White, Obama’s nominee for chair of the Securities and Exchange Commission, has, along with her husband, a net worth of roughly $16 million (though it is probably more than that), according to The New York Times. White, a former U.S. Attorney, heads the litigation department at New York law firm Deveboise & Plimpton. Her husband is the cochairman at another firm. White also addressed how she would deal with potential conflicts of interest, stating her husband would convert his partnership at his firm from equity to non-equity status, meaning he will have no ownership stake and will receive a fixed salary. Read more


MORE OF THE SAME ON HEALTH CARE. Instead of new initiatives, Obama continued to advocate for Medicare cuts he endorsed last year in his fiscal 2013 budget in his State of the Union address. Those proposals include some measures with bipartisan support—like increasing the premiums paid by wealthy and middle-class seniors—but others that are likely to be unpopular among Republicans, such as reducing the payments made to pharmaceutical companies for drugs prescribed to poor seniors. Notable, though not surprising, was what was off the table: any changes to Medicaid or cuts to new insurance subsidies in his Affordable Care Act. To the extent the president is interested in reducing health care spending by the federal government, he has now placed the burden squarely on Medicare’s shoulders. Read more

WALKER TO TAKE MIDDLE ROAD ON MEDICAID. Later today, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker will announce his decision to expand the state’s Medicaid program without fully embracing the package offered under the Affordable Care Act, The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. According to administration sources, Walker has found a middle ground on the issue: the state’s program will expand to cover more people, but not through the provision in the act, which Walker has long opposed. The governor is one of the last to make this decision; six Republican governors have already announced plans to expand while 11 others turned down the federal funding. Walker signaled his intentions last week, telling the Journal Sentinel, “I think there’s more than just a black or white. I think there’s variations.” Read more

HOUSE HEARING ON THIS YEAR’S FLU. The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing today on the current flu season and the Health and Human Services Department efforts to prepare for and respond to influenza outbreaks. Drs. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Jesse L. Goodman, chief scientist of the Food and Drug Administration; and Marcia Crosse, health care director at the Government Accountability Office, will testify.

ADMINISTRATION TO LAUNCH MENTAL HEALTH CAMPAIGN. The Obama administration plans to launch a national campaign to encourage discussion of mental-health issues, The Hill reports. At an American Medical Association conference Tuesday, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius noted the importance of a dialogue on mental health, which Obama encouraged in his package of proposals to address gun violence in the wake of the Newtown, Conn., school shooting. Sebelius acknowledged the growing pains of transitioning to “an era of integrated, patient-centered care,” but also said that “moving forward is the only option.” She said the state of American health care is getting stronger, citing improvements in the cost and quality of care from accountable care organizations, bundled-payment initiatives, and electronic health records. Read more

(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. Sen. Marco Rubio countered President Obama’s State of the Union address in some 2,600 words last night. But it seems all anyone called out was an awkward, impromptu moment of silence when the senator quickly crouched down to reach for a water bottle off camera and took quick swig while maintaining eye contact. Within seconds there were over a dozen variations of “Rubio’s water battle” Twitter handles. One typical offering claimed to  be “Fighting liberal tyranny and thirst.” Rubio himself even Tweeted out a picture of the now-infamous bottle.)

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