WALKING IMMIGRATION UP THE HILL. The outlines of the coming immigration debate have been set but now lawmakers must hunker down and write legislation—and that could be a long process. There may not be movement on any of the ideas presented this week until March, the deadline that the eight senators who signed onto immigration reform principles have set to deliver a bill. While Sen. Patrick Leahy has already scheduled a hearing on immigration reform for Feb. 13, the day after President Obama’s State of the Union address, the Senate Judiciary Committee chairman is insisting that any legislation proceed through normal order, and that means through his panel. Read more
SENATE CONFIRMS JOHN KERRY AS SECRETARY OF STATE. In a lopsided vote on Tuesday, the Senate confirmed Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., as the replacement for departing Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee recommended Kerry’s confirmation and the full Senate voted 94-3 in favor of Kerry. Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz of Texas and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma voted against the nomination. Read more
INTERIM MASSACHUSETTS SENATOR TO BE ANNOUNCED TODAY. Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will announce today his interim appointment to the Senate seat being vacated by Kerry, and all eyes are on former Democratic Rep. Barney Frank, who has publicly expressed interest in the job. Patrick has stayed mum on his pick, but he has said he intends to appoint someone who will not run in a June special election to replace Kerry permanently. Should Frank get the nod, he would bring a liberal voice and decades of legislative experience to upcoming immigration, gun-control, and budget debates.
EGYPTIAN ARMY LEADER WARNS OF STATE ‘COLLAPSE.’ The head of the Egyptian army has warned that if rival political factions within Egypt do not come together soon, the country could be facing a “collapse of the state.” Egyptians protesting the government’s use of autocratic powers continue their refusal to abate and follow President Mohamed Morsi’s curfew and state-of-emergency declaration. Over the past five days, three cities along the Suez Canal have faced rapidly growing protests. Police have lost control in clashes leaving roughly 50 people dead. On Monday, protests also sprang up in Cairo. Read more
LAPIERRE, GIFFORDS, AND KELLY TO TESTIFY AT SENATE GUN HEARING. The National Rifle Association's chief lobbyist, Wayne LaPierre, will testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on gun violence today. His prepared remarks, distributed Tuesday, show that he will maintain his opposition to any new gun-control legislation. "Proposals that would only serve to burden the law-abiding have failed in the past and will fail in the future," LaPierre says in the remarks. Shooting survivor and former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords is expected to testify, The Washington Post reported, as is Mark Kelly, her husband. Giffords and Kelly recently founded the gun-control advocacy group Americans for Responsible Solutions.
IMMIGRATION REFORM COULD DIE IN THE HOUSE. The political and demographic makeup of this year's House GOP suggests that, despite efforts by the president and the Senate, immigration reform might stall again. With very few exceptions, legislation cannot advance in the House without the support of a "majority of the majority" party. Fully 131 of the 233 House Republicans represent districts that are more than 80 percent white. Not only have many of those members opposed measures beyond improving border security in the past, but there is also no natural pressure for immigration reform in their districts. Democrats, who are largely unified in support of some sort of immigration-reform proposal, have just 31 members from similar districts. Read more
WHY REP. BARLETTA WON'T CHANGE HIS MIND ON IMMIGRATION. It was two violent crimes in two days in Hazleton, Pa., that set in stone Republican Rep. Lou Barletta's views on immigration. After two investigations, five people were arrested for the two crimes. All were undocumented immigrants. Barletta, mayor at the time and now the district's representative in the House, said their legal status stood out as particularly troubling. This was the start of Barletta’s crusade to try and rid Hazleton, and eventually the rest of the country, of illegal immigrants. It led him to try and enact a controversial law as mayor, and is his motivation today as he works to oppose the framework of a Senate compromise on immigration reform. Read more
SCHUMER, MCCAIN TO DISCUSS IMMIGRATION DEAL. Politico’s Playbook Breakfast will host Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at 8 a.m. this morning at the W Hotel. The senators will tell the behind-the-scenes story of how the bipartisan group of senators pulled together their deal on immigration reform. Read more
CRUZ TO BANK CEOs: IGNORE RAHM’S GUN-CONTROL REQUEST. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, sent a letter Tuesday to the CEOs of the Bank of America and TD Bank Group asking them to ignore a request from Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel that they not do business with firearm manufacturers Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger and Co. In Texas, he writes, “we do not accept the notion that government officials should behave as bullies, trying to harass or pressure private companies into enlisting in a political lobbying campaign.” He goes on to mention that should they want to move their business from Chicago, Texans will be waiting with open arms. He also thanks the CEOs of the two gun manufacturers for their commitment to the Second Amendment.
OBAMA: IMMIGRATION CAN'T STALL. One message that came through loud and clear in Obama’s immigration speech on Tuesday: He’s not interested in a repeat of the protracted negotiations to nowhere that stalled health reform during his first term, writes National Journal's Jill Lawrence. While Obama praised senators for their plan on the topic, he also made clear that his patience is limited. “We can’t allow immigration reform to get bogged down in an endless debate,” he said. “If Congress is unable to move forward in a timely fashion, I will send up a bill based on my proposal and insist that they vote on it right away.” Read more
RAY LAHOOD TO STEP DOWN. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced his resignation on Tuesday, Politico reported. LaHood, who said he will remain in his post until a replacement is confirmed, was the last Republican left in Obama's Cabinet. He will be the seventh Cabinet official to leave the Obama administration for the president's second term. The Los Angeles Times reports that one possible successor may be Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, "whose mayoral term ends June 30 and who played a key role in writing a provision of last year's federal transportation bill that is designed to speed up projects throughout the country, including in Los Angeles." Read more
U.S. INCREASES AID TO SYRIA. In a video posted to the White House website on Tuesday, Obama announced an additional $155 million in humanitarian aid to Syria in tacit support of forces pushing for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to step aside. "The relief we send doesn't say 'Made in America,' but make no mistake—our aid reflects the commitment of the American people," Obama said in the video. The new injection nearly doubles total U.S. humanitarian investment in the area, which now stands at $365 million, according to the White House. The Washington Post reports that the money will be used to immunize Syrian children, purchase winter supplies, and mitigate food shortages. Read more
BRENNAN HAD DETAILED KNOWLEDGE OF ‘ENHANCED’ INTERROGATION TECHNIQUES. Official records show that John Brennan, Obama's nominee to head the CIA, regularly received CIA messages about controversial aspects of the agency's counter-terrorism efforts, including the use of "waterboarding," Reuters reports. Brennan, formerly the deputy executive director of the CIA, has publicly disavowed waterboarding and other physically painful techniques in the past. But the issue may come up in his confirmation hearing in the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is scheduled for Thursday, Feb. 7. Read more
GITMO LAWYER REQUESTS ACCESS TO CLIENTS. Lawyers for five alleged 9/11 conspirators imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay on Tuesday asked a military judge for permission to visit their clients for two days every six months, The New York Times reported. Military prosecutors countered that the lawyers should be allowed to make just one, two-hour visit. “The idea that they are entitled to walk around for 48 hours in their clients’ shoes is unsupported by anything,” Maj. Robert McGovern, a member of the prosecution team, told The Times. The issue was one of several to come up at a motions hearing. Read more
WILL WOMEN HAVE TO REGISTER FOR SELECTIVE SERVICE? After Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement that the military will open combat positions to women, will females now have to register for Selective Service? Currently all men have to do so within 30 days of their 18th birthday, but the male exclusivity was based largely on women’s ban from combat duty. Panetta has been agnostic on the issue: “I don’t know who the hell controls Selective Service, if you want to know the truth,” he said. “But, you know, whoever does, they’re going to have to exercise some judgment based on what we just did.” The Selective Service System—the independent executive agency that controls Selective Service—said the law remains the same for now. Read more
DEMS SHY TO TAKE ON CHRISTIE IN NOVEMBER. New Jersey Republican Gov. Chris Christie looks unstoppable, and that’s left Democrats in an awkward position come November 2013. One by one, potential Democratic contenders have bowed out. Newark Mayor Cory Booker will pursue a Senate seat. Once-popular former Gov. Richard Codey, one of his party’s best shots against Christie, said last week he’s not running for personal reasons. News came this week that Senate President Steve Sweeney will likely stick with a reelection bid to the state legislature. And Rep. Bill Pascrell won’t be running for governor, either. The last possibility seems to be state Sen. Barbara Buono. Read more
COOK: GOP COULD USE SENSITIVITY TRAINING. For Republicans seeking the long road back to being a national party with a broad base, the movement toward a bipartisan and comprehensive immigration plan is a start, but it doesn’t finish the job, writes The Cook Political Report’s Charlie Cook. GOP candidates got pounded by minority voters in the November election: Mitt Romney and congressional Republicans lost Latino voters by 44 and 38 points, respectively, and Asian voters by 47 and 48 points. But the damage done among Latinos and Asians—the latter now the fastest-growing minority group—resulted not just from the substance of the immigration issue but from the rhetoric as well. Read more
CAMPAIGN CONTRIBUTION LIMITS RISE AGAIN. The limits that individuals can give to candidates for federal office and to national party committees will again go up for the 2014 election cycle. Roll Call reports that the Federal Election Commission announced that individuals will now be able to contribute $2,600 to a candidate during both the primary and general elections. That number has been adjusted upward every election cycle since 2006. The new upper limit on calendar-year donations to a national party committee will now be $32,400, and total federal contributions over a two-year election period will now go as high as $123,200, including $48,600 to candidates and $74,600 to parties and political action committees. Read more
CNN PARTS WAYS WITH CARVILLE, MATALIN. CNN's political commentators James Carville and Mary Matalin are leaving the network, according to Fishbowl DC. CNN told Carville they wanted contributors who could be more available in the D.C. area. Carville and Matalin, his wife, live in New Orleans, La. "I'm completely cool with it," he told Politico. Read more
PALIN'S FACEBOOK FANS GIVE ADVICE ON LIFE AFTER FOX. After news broke that Sarah Palin will leave Fox News, her Facebook fans weighed in on what she should do now. Most focused on a potential run for president, but BuzzFeed rounds up some of the best: "Palin for Energy Secretary in the new GOP administration, 2016," reads one. "DON'T RETREAT, RELOAD!!" reads another. Others said things like "Call a meeting with Newt and ya'll talk it over. that will really get the media upset," and "Get her in the Senate!! Smoke out the commies." Read more
THE PERILS OF BYPASSING CONGRESS ON CLIMATE. President Obama made it clear in his Inaugural Address last week that he hopes to make history by tackling climate change. But as he butts up against Congress on gun control, immigration reform, and budget battles, the president is expected to pursue his climate agenda through actions he can take without congressional approval, most importantly the Environmental Protection Agency’s finalization of rules restricting carbon dioxide emissions from new fossil-fueled power plants, which is expected this spring. Attempting to make major changes through executive action, however, is a strategy with many pitfalls. Executive actions lack permanence, courts can find that the administration overstepped, and the approach is often not comprehensive. Read more
REGULATOR PROPOSES FINING BARCLAYS A RECORD $488 MILLION. In a filing posted to its website Tuesday, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has proposed a record $488 million in fines against Barclays and its employees for energy-market manipulation, Bloomberg reported. The proposed fines would be the largest ever levied for market manipulation by the agency, which was given greater authority in the wake of Enron’s manipulation of California’s energy markets. “Neither Barclays nor its individual traders are able to offer any credible explanation to show their conduct was proper,” the agency states. Barclays maintains that the agency interprets manipulation too broadly, and a spokesman told Bloomberg that the bank intends to contest the enforcement action. Read more
ISSA, VITTER REQUEST EPA OFFICIAL’S E-MAILS. House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Senate Environment Committee ranking member David Vitter, R-La., wrote to an Environmental Protection Agency official on Tuesday to request that he turn over all e-mails from a personal account dating back to 2010, The Hill reported. The official, Regional Administrator James Martin, oversees the area in which an EPA draft report has linked hydraulic fracturing to groundwater contamination. The lawmakers cite correspondence between Martin and an environmental lawyer on the personal account—made public in separate litigation—as the reason for their request. “The use of personal, non-official e-mail accounts raises concerns that you could be attempting to insulate this and other e-mail correspondence from a Freedom of Information Act request,” they wrote. Read more
WILL GAS KILL NUCLEAR? It used to be that nuclear energy was so inexpensive it was “too cheap to meter,” as The Wall Street Journal notes. But these days, it turns out that some natural gas plants are even cheaper to run, and are now giving nuclear a run for its money. As The Journal reports, “at gas plants, fuel is the biggest single expense, and its cost has been plunging.” Adding to the woes of the nuclear industry, many companies like Exelon and Entergy are confronting aging plants in need of costly repairs. In a recent report, UBS identified at least half-a-dozen plants that were either “vulnerable” to shutdown or in need of overhaul. Read more
CHESAPEAKE FOUNDER TO STEP DOWN. The man who founded what is now the nation’s second-biggest natural gas producer will step down from his post as chief executive on April 1, The New York Times reports. Aubrey McClendon, 53, who co-founded Oklahoma-based Chesapeake Energy in 1989, had come under federal scrutiny over allegations that he mixed his personal finances with his company’s, but the company said that a review showed no “improper conduct.” As The Wall Street Journal puts it, Chesapeake’s investors “have been pressing for changes at the company, which has been criticized for heavy spending and extravagant compensation for executives and directors.” McClendon, a larger-than-life figure, owns a piece of the NBA’s Oklahoma Thunder, a winery, and $12 million in antique maps. Read more
ECONOMY & BUDGET
ALL EYES ON FED STATEMENT. The Federal Reserve will end its two-day meeting in Washington with a statement this afternoon, and most economists believe the central bank will continue its policy of aggressive easing, MarketWatch reports. “The Fed will maintain a steady foot on the gas pedal,” Julia Coronado, chief economist for North America at BNP Paribas, told the website. Though there had been fears that the Fed would end its bond-buying program sooner than expected, many Fed-watchers believe those fears are overblown. Read more
NO DEAL IN SIGHT TO AVOID SEQUESTRATION. A bipartisan cadre of lawmakers are making dire predictions about the sequestration cuts set to impact the Pentagon and other federal agencies on March 1. As 2012 came to a close, Congress reached an 11th-hour deal to push back the across-the-board spending cuts a few months. But there still appears to be no path to compromise, despite a number of plans currently on the table. Among the factors blocking a deal are a belief that the cuts would “improve the government’s bottom line without devastating the broader economy,” The Washington Post writes. But they would disproportionately impact the economy in Washington. Read more
SENATORS SEEK ANSWERS ON LACK OF FINANCIAL-CRIME PROSECUTION. Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, are seeking a more detailed explanation of the Justice Department’s handling of possible financial crimes during and after the economic meltdown. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, they argued that “penalties in settlements have been disproportionately low relative to company profits and the costs imposed on consumers, investors and the market,” according to The Washington Post. Read more
AMID TEPID Q4 GDP PREDICTIONS, SOME SEE SILVER LINING. On Wednesday morning, the government will release an estimate of the nation’s fourth-quarter gross domestic product. With growth predictions ranging from 0.4 percent to 1.1 percent, many are lamenting the tepidness of the U.S. economy. But, as The Washington Post points out, there are reasons to be optimistic. The third quarter was inflated by aberrations in defense spending and business inventories, largely accounting for a 3.1 percent growth rate. Macroeconomic Advisers economist Ben Herzon points out that removing those two categories from the equation would subtract 1.8 percent from GDP. Read more
SEC NAMES NEW INSPECTOR GENERAL. After a full year without an inspector general, the Securities and Exchange Commission announced the hire of Carl Hoecker, who has most recently been with the U.S. Capitol Police, The Hill reported. “Carl has demonstrated ability in conducting complex investigations,” SEC Chairwoman Elisse Walter said. “He has more than 30 years of federal law enforcement experience and is well qualified to serve as the SEC’s Inspector General.” Read more
OBAMA IMMIGRATION PROPOSAL BANS UNDOCUMENTED FROM ACA. The immigration proposal put forth Tuesday by President Barack Obama would keep undocumented immigrants from accessing benefits of the health reform law while they seek legal status. Many advocates had hoped the proposal would cover the undocumented quickly, since uninsured people in the health system can rack up huge costs. "Consistent with current law, people with provisional legal status will not be eligible for welfare or other federal benefits, including subsidies or tax credits under the new health care law," the proposal says. Read more
GENERICS PUSH BACK AGAINST BIOTECH LOBBYING EFFORTS. Biotechnology companies are lobbying state legislatures to limit generic competition for their biological drugs, The New York Times reported Monday. The drugs account for roughly $80 billion in spending, but their market power could be undercut by provisions in the Affordable Care Act that encourage the availability of generic drugs—prompting lobbying efforts to keep doctors from prescribing generics. But the Generic Pharmaceutical Association is putting up a fight, issuing a statement that says the initiative "puts profits ahead of the patients who need these treatments but many times cannot get them because of their prohibitively high cost."
NFL ATHLETES, HARVARD TEAM UP FOR STUDY ON PLAYER HEALTH. The National Football League players union will work with Harvard University on a 10-year, $100 million research project aimed at both the treatment and prevention of health problems among former players, the Associated Press reports. The research will address brain trauma, torn ligaments, arthritic joints, and the long-term effects of acute pain and the chronic use of painkillers. One thousand former NFL players will participate. Read more
HEALTH SAVINGS ACCOUNTS GROWING. Health savings accounts and health reimbursement arrangements are showing renewed growth after a slight dip during the recession, according to new research from the Employee Benefit Research Institute. The plans are designed to give consumers more discretion over their health care spending, allowing them to allocate the money more responsibly toward their own care. In 2012, there was $17.8 billion in 11.6 million plans across the country. This number is up from 2006, when there were 1.3 million plans with $873.4 million in assets, and 2011, when 8.5 million accounts held $12.4 billion in assets.
SENATE DEMS: KEEP MEDICAL DEBT OUT OF CREDIT SCORES. Democrats may not be able to eliminate medical bankruptcy, but some in the Senate are ready to do away with the reduced credit scores that can come with medical-debt burdens. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced a bill Monday that would forbid credit agencies from considering medical debt that has been paid or otherwise addressed in calculating credit scores. "Unforeseen accident or illness can happen to any one of us," he said in a statement. "We can’t change that fact, but we can change the law so that responsible working families aren’t hit with unfair credit reports for years after medical debt has been paid off.”
(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. Forget secretary of State. Let’s get John Kerry back on TV. BuzzFeed unearthed this great clip from a cameo the Massachusetts senator did on Cheers in 1993, where he’s standing outside the eponymous bar, only to be mistaken for a local news anchor. “No, I'm John Kerry. Senator Kerry? From Massachusetts?” said the surprisingly good actor. Kerry also later appeared on a Jay Leno-hosted Cheers farewell show, where, according to Leno, he was the only one there not sloshed.)
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