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Obama Releases Legal Opinion on Drones


OBAMA RELEASES LEGAL OPINIONS ON DRONES. President Obama ordered the Justice Department to provide congressional intelligence committees with access to classified information on the legal rationale for drone strikes, the Associated Press reported late Wednesday. The last-minute disclosure will likely have an impact on today’s confirmation hearing for John Brennan, the president’s pick for CIA Director, and may mitigate the mounting pressure from senators in both parties to see the secret legal opinions. Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., praised the release. "It is critical for the committee's oversight function to fully understand the legal basis for all intelligence and counterterrorism operations,” she said in a statement. Read more


BRENNAN FACES TOUGH QUESTIONS. Brennan can expect difficult questions on drone killings at his Senate confirmation hearing today, despite the administration’s decision to release the legal rationale for drone strikes. As the chief architect of the administration’s drone program, Brennan will be grilled on the leaked classified memo outlining the legal justification for killing American citizens in drone strikes. While the administration’s legal opinions, which will be delivered to the committees this morning, may answer some questions senators have posed in recent days, it is also possible that they raise new questions about the U.S. drone program.

SENATE COMMITTEE DELAYS HAGEL VOTE. The Senate Armed Services Committee has delayed a vote on the confirmation of Chuck Hagel as Defense secretary after Republicans demanded more answers about his speaking engagements, including who was paying him and what he said, The Hill reported. Twenty-five GOP senators, including all those on the committee, sent Hagel a letter this week demanding more information. Committee Chair Carl Levin, D-Mich., said he had hoped to schedule a vote this week, but that he would do so after the committee’s work is complete. Read more

PANETTA TO TESTIFY ON BENGHAZI. Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee today, fielding questions about the Sept. 11 terrorist attack in Benghazi that killed four Americans. The pair will likely address the military’s response to the attack and security at the U.S. compound. It may be Panetta’s last time on the dais, answering questions from members of Congress. Read more


POLL: WIDE MAJORITIES FAVOR NEW GUN LAWS. A wide majority of Americans favor new gun laws similar to the ones proposed by the president, including universal background checks, an assault weapon ban and limitations on high-capacity magazine cartridges, a new Quinnipiac University poll finds.  A stunning 92 percent of respondents said they would favor universal background checks on all would-be gun owners, while smaller majorities favored other measures. Read more


RUBIO: NOT YOUR GRANDFATHER’S REPUBLICAN. The junior Republican senator from Florida is a presidential prospect who is delivering the GOP response to Obama’s State of the Union address next Tuesday. But Rubio defies Republican stereotypes. He can talk at length about the intricacies of West Coast-versus-East Coast rap and his favorite movies mirror those of college freshman. National Journal’s Elahe Izadi offers up a run-down of Rubio facts. Read more

HOUSE: WE WANT BALANCED-BUDGET DATE. The House on Wednesday passed the Require a Plan Act, a bill that would force Obama to outline his plan to eliminate the budget deficit and estimate when it would be completed. The vote primarily took place along party lines, but 26 Democrats supported the legislation. This follows last month’s House-passed No Budget, No Pay Act, which threatened to withhold pay from senators until they passed a budget. Read more


CLYBURN STAYING PUT IN THE HOUSE. Though the Congressional Black Caucus pushed to have him considered for Transportation secretary, Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., said Wednesday he is not interested in the position, The Hill reports. Clyburn is currently the highest ranking African-American in the House and the third highest Democrat in the chamber. Clyburn would have replaced Secretary Ray LaHood, who is stepping down. Read more

WHY IS STOLEN VALOR ACT GETTING ANOTHER GO? Some laws are hard to kill, even those declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Like a zombie brought back to life, the Stolen Valor Act, which makes it illegal to lie about military records, is getting a second life. But this time, its supporters have taken the steps to ensure its longevity. Here’s the key difference that allows it to pass constitutional muster: Unlike the overly broad bill that was shot down last year, this iteration says it is only illegal to lie about military accolades for material gain. Which, of course, raises the question, what qualifies as material gain? Read more


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OBAMA TO VISIT HOUSE RETREAT. President Obama spent Wednesday with Senate Democrats in Annapolis, Md., where he spoke about White House coordination on the sequester, a balanced approach to deficit reduction, immigration, and guns, according to press secretary Jay Carney. Carney reiterated Obama's support for the assault weapons ban, and said Obama wants Congress to vote on the issue even if it could hurt some in the Democratic caucus. Today, Obama will take a similar message to House Democrats, who are holding their caucus retreat in Leesburg, Va.

WHITE HOUSE TEAM MET WITH KEY DEFENSE COMPANIES ON SEQUESTER. Several of Obama's top advisers on the economy met with executives from Northrop Grumman, Aurora Flight Sciences, ITT Exelis, Huntington Ingalls Industries, and the Aerospace Industries Association to discuss the impact the sequester would have on their business, and whether that impact would be reversible. "For some of these major companies, the impacts would be long-lasting, as they would have to make decisions about programmatic changes they would make and therefore contractual changes. A company like Northrop Grumman, I believe, would have, for example, something like 20,000 small businesses in their pipeline that would be severely affected by implementation of the sequester," Carney said Wednesday.

OBAMA CLOSE TO PICKING PRITZKER FOR COMMERCE. Penny Pritzker, a major Obama fundraiser and a Hyatt Hotels board member, is being vetted by the White House for Commerce Secretary, The Wall Street Journal reports. Obama has not yet made a decision on the post, and an announcement may not come for weeks. Pritzker would replace acting secretary Rebecca Blank, an economist who took over for John Bryson after he resigned last June for health reasons. Pritzker is one of several women who are being considered for top jobs, after Obama faced criticism for selecting men for his most prominent cabinet positions, Bloomberg reports. Read more

INTERIOR NOMINEE COULD BRING TOGETHER SPORTSMEN, ENVIROS. Sally Jewell, President Obama's pick to replace Ken Salazar as Interior secretary, is president and CEO of Recreational Equipment Inc., an outdoor and recreational retailer, and that could be good news for the environment. As head of a company that counts among its customers millions of the nation’s hunters and fishers, Jewell could represent a piece of the conservation agenda that often unites Democrats and Republicans. When it comes to protecting the environment, a “greens and guns” alliance has formed, as environmentalists and sportsmen join in efforts to protect wilderness areas. This could help generate bipartisan support for her confirmation. Read more

CARNEY: WE ARE NOT BUILDING A REPLICA OVAL OFFICE. A recent report that Obama would be moving to a temporary Oval Office in August while the original undergoes renovations is false, Carney said Wednesday. "The reports about a replica Oval Office are false, and no one is moving from the West Wing,” Carney said. “Certainly, no decisions about that have been made." He did say, however, that discussions about upcoming renovations were ongoing. Read more


IRAN’S SUPREME LEADER REJECTS ONE-ON-ONE NUCLEAR TALKS. Iran’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei on Thursday rejected the idea of future one-on-one negotiations with the U.S. over Tehran’s nuclear program, his first comments on the matter. Khamenei’s statement comes after top Iranian officials suggested they were open to one-on-one talks and as multilateral talks are set to begin later this month. The U.S. and its allies have also continued to apply economic pressure on Iran, in an effort to halt its nuclear activity. Read more

U.S. STICKS TO HUMANITARIAN AID AS NEW CLASHES ENVELOP SYRIA. Although the U.S. continues to increase humanitarian aid to Syria through the State Department and USAID, department officials said in a conference call Wednesday that they will not funnel the money through any of the Syrian rebel groups. Last week, President Obama announced a $155 million increase in aid to Syria, bringing the total to $365 million, and various senators have been calling for some of it to go to Syrian rebels. Those calls may increase in the coming days after a new round of insurgent attacks erupted Wednesday, The New York Times reports. Read more

RAND PAUL ALIGNS WITH REAGAN, NOT BUSH. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., outlined his foreign policy beliefs Wednesday in a speech at the Heritage Foundation. According to The Washington Post, he attempted to portray himself as separate from neoconservatives of the George W. Bush era, and align himself more with Ronald Reagan’s Cold War messaging. “Many of today’s neoconservatives want to wrap themselves up in Reagan’s mantle, but the truth is that Reagan used clear messages of communism’s evil and clear exposition of America’s strength to contain and ultimately transcend the Soviet Union,” he said. Paul advocated for applying this straightforward approach to Islamic terrorism. “Radical Islam is no fleeting fad but a relentless force,” he said. Read more

NAVY TO EQUIP SHIPS WITH 4G NETWORK. The Navy’s mobile network is going mobile. “For the first time, a sailor or Marine on board a ship out to sea can actually use his or her cellphone for something other than setting a wake-up alarm,” Wired reports. The publication confirmed that two ships will head to the Persian Gulf in late March with a 4G LTE network. Up to 400 sailors could get Android smartphones to try out the network. Read more

PERSIAN GULF AIRCRAFT CARRIER FLEET CUT FROM TWO TO ONE. In a visible sign of Pentagon budget cuts, U.S. officials told the Associated Press Wednesday that a plan had been approved to cut the number of aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf from two to one. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has reportedly approved the plan, but it has not yet been announced. Read more


RACE FOR GA. SENATE SEAT GETS FIRST CANDIDATE. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., filed paperwork with the Federal Election Commission on Wednesday to run for the Senate seat held by Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss. Broun is the first candidate to enter the race, which is expected to draw a crowded primary on the Republican side. Broun's candidacy puts Republican Senate officials in Washington in an awkward if familiar position. Once again, they’re left hoping the conservative movement doesn't galvanize behind a candidate whose well-documented penchant for controversy could put at risk what otherwise would be a sure-fire victory. Broun drew national attention last fall when he declared that evolution, embryology and the big bang theory were "lies straight from the pit of hell." Read more

GOVERNORS MOVE TO MIDDLE WITH MEDICAID EXPANSIONS. Two days after Ohio Gov. John Kasich announced his support for implementing a federal Medicaid expansion, it appears fellow Republican Gov. Rick Snyder will recommend the same in Michigan. After contentious early term battles, the moves signal the swing state executives feel they've done enough to please their conservative base and now need to focus on winning back moderates turned off by bitter partisan battles. Conservative groups and pundits hit Kasich for the decision earlier this week, but his overall budget was met with tepid approval by editorial boards that had lambasted drastic cost-cutting measures earlier in his term. Read more

MONTANA’S MAX BAUCUS DRAWS FIRST GOP CHALLENGER. Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., drew his first 2014 challenger Wednesday, when Republican former state Sen. Corey Stapleton announced that he will challenge the six-term Democrat. Stapleton did not mention Baucus by name in an announcement video posted to his campaign website, instead attacking federal spending and debt generally. “Like a lot of Montanans, I look at our politicians in Washington, D.C. and just shake my head,” Stapleton said. Stapleton unsuccessfully ran for governor in 2012, finishing second in the GOP primary. He raised more than a half-million dollars during the primary but will start from scratch against Baucus, who had about $3.6 million in the bank to start 2013.

GRADING CANTOR’S PROPOSALS. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s big speech at the American Enterprise Institute has been analyzed for its tone (warm), its rhetoric (soothing) and its intent (to show that Republicans want to improve life for everyday Americans). What about its ideas? National Journal’s Jill Lawrence serves up an evaluation of the policy proposals Cantor laid out. Some of them are new, many of them are familiar, and what he has left out on several big issues gives his party some room to maneuver. The grades range from an A+ for requiring colleges to disclose information about the economic prospects of different majors to a D for giving states more flexibility in administering Medicaid. Read more


REPORT: OBAMA LIKELY TO PROPOSE NEW EMISSIONS RULES NEXT WEEK. The president is likely to announce in his State of the Union address next week his intention to have the Environmental Protection Agency roll out stronger emissions standards for existing coal-fired power plants, The Wall Street Journal reports. "You will ultimately see a proposal from EPA to regulate existing power plants," one source told The Journal. "How he talks about it in the State of the Union could be anything from, 'We've taken important steps and we need to take more,' to 'We need to make more [progress] and the next one on the chopping block is existing sources' " of carbon emissions. The rules would provoke an outcry from the industry and its allies in Congress. Read more

GOP VOTES DOWN CLIMATE HEARINGS PROPOSAL. House Democrats moved to put House Republicans on the record on climate change Wednesday by proposing that the House Energy and Commerce Committee hold hearings on climate change, The Hill reported. The record shows that the committee’s Republicans unanimously reject hearings on the topic; amendments to hold hearings were all voted down on party lines. “To be kept in ignorance, to not be informed, is irresponsible,” said Ranking Member Henry Waxman of California, according to The Hill. Read more


SPENDING CUTS STINK. BUT THEY’RE OVERHYPED. If the country goes through with sequestration cuts, it’ll be ugly. The economy will shed jobs and gross domestic product growth may slow. But it’s worth being skeptical about the sky-is-falling predictions about an end to meat inspections, air-traffic control, federal prison guards, and so on. It'll be bad, but not that bad, as National Journal’s Matthew Cooper explains. Read more

GOP HAS ALTERNATIVE SEQUESTER PLAN. Despite the sounds from many in the GOP that enduring sequester would be just fine, there are some defense hawks in Congress who are resisting the idea, The Hill reports. A plan, revived Wednesday, would avoid the first year of $45 billion across-the-board cuts by reducing the federal workforce. “I visited with our top leaders and they have told me we have gone past cutting the fat. We've gone past cutting the meat. We're into the bone,” said House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon, R-Calif., at a press conference Wednesday. He was joined by senators John McCain, R-Ariz., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H. A similar bill was introduced in the last Congress, but it went nowhere in either chamber. Read more

GEITHNER GETS BOOK CONTRACT, TWITTER SNARK ENSUES. News broke late Wednesday morning that former Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner plans to write a book about his response to the financial crisis. Within hours, jokes about possible book titles began trending on Twitter under the hashtag #geithnerbooktitles. Among the best: “Angels and Lehmans,” “The Yuan Also Rises,” and “The AIG of Innocence.” Read more

U.S. TO INVESTIGATE FAA APPROVAL OF DREAMLINER. The top U.S. investigator looking into the issue of burning batteries on the Boeing 787 will evaluate "the assessments that were made" by Federal Aviation Administration officials in the approval process for the plane, The Wall Street Journal reports. The chair of the National Transportation Safety Board, Deborah Hersman, also told reporters that investigators were “probably weeks away” from coming to a conclusion about what happened and “what needs to change.” The FAA grounded the Dreamliners in January after the jet’s lithium-ion battery caught fire. Read more


COULD A PERMANENT ‘DOC FIX’ BE POSSIBLE? The Congressional Budget Office handed the doctors and lawmakers eager to fix a longstanding Medicare-physician pay problem a big gift this week. In its budget outlook released on Tuesday, the CBO slashed the projected cost of a long-term “doc fix” by nearly half. That change means that if Congress wants to reverse the flawed and universally disliked 1997 Medicare payment formula known as the “sustainable growth rate,” it won’t have to come up with nearly as much money as previously expected. This week, two proposals for reversing the SGR forever began circulating on Capitol Hill. Read more

GRANTS FOR PRIMARY CARE DOCS. The National Health Service Corps awarded more than $10 million to 87 medical students for help with their loan repayment, the Department of Health and Human Services announced Wednesday. The funding, available to students who go into primary care, was made possible by the Affordable Care Act. “This new National Health Service Corps initiative is an innovative approach to encouraging more medical students to work in primary care, and to bring more primary care doctors to communities,” Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. “This is an important part of the administration’s commitment to building the future health care workforce.”

HOUSE GOP PRESENTS ACA 'BURDEN TRACKER'. Three House committees announced an "Obamacare Burden Tracker" as a "way to keep track of all of the new government mandates, rules, and red tape as a result of ObamaCare," according to a statement. "Every hour and dollar spent complying with the Democrats’ health care law are time and resources being taken from spending time with family, growing a business and creating jobs, or caring for patients," it continued.

(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. Will Ayn Rand be the new Shakespeare? Idaho’s Senate Education Committee Chairman, Republican state Sen. John Goedde, introduced legislation that would require every Idaho high school student to read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” and pass a test on it to graduate. Why that particular book? “That book made my son a Republican,” he said. Read more

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