IN THE NEWS: Hagel's path clear for confirmation ... Lew wins committee vote ... Chicago-area voters brave elements to replace Jackson ... Christie agrees to Medicaid expansion ... Military mistakenly reports decline in Taliban attacks ... Hillary PAC gets into gear
Hagel Still Has Much to Prove
Chuck Hagel is going to get the chance to redeem himself, but it won’t be easy.
It’s hard to say which was more painful: watching one senator after the other, some of them formerly close friends, lay into Hagel with brutal critiques; or watching Hagel bumble through his confirmation hearing with little trace of the command one would hope to see in a cabinet member.
We don’t necessarily need a Don “I don’t do quagmires” Rumsfeld or an Alexander “I am in control here” Haig at the Pentagon. But a little self-confidence would have been reassuring, given the scale of the challenges awaiting Hagel the minute he steps into his new office.
The long list is topped by defense-spending cutbacks, a drawdown in Afghanistan, tensions over drone warfare, and decisions about whether and how to intervene in conflicts around the globe.
The pressure will be on Hagel to prove he's the right person for this job—and he'll have very little margin for error.
HAGEL'S PATH CLEAR FOR CONFIRMATION. Chuck Hagel, President Obama’s pick for Defense secretary, overcame a filibuster in the Senate today, all but assuring his confirmation later in the day, The New York Times reports. The Senate voted 71-27 to cut off debate. A dozen Republicans voted in favor, despite objections to his candidacy. Hagel now needs a simple 51-vote majority to win confirmation. Read more
- Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid lashed out at the opposition: “Senate Republicans have delayed for the better part of two weeks for one reason and one reason only: partisanship.”
OBAMA CONTINUES SEQUESTER CAMPAIGN. In a campaign-style event today at a submarine factory in Newport News, Va., Obama blamed GOP intransigence for the pending sequester cuts, NBC News reports. "Too many Republicans in Congress right now refuse to compromise even an inch when it comes to closing tax loopholes and special-interest tax breaks," he said. "And that's what’s holding things up right now." Read more
BRENNAN VOTE TO COME THURSDAY. A Senate Intelligence Committee vote on the nomination of John Brennan to lead the CIA is “all but certain” to take place on Thursday, Roll Call reports. Though the panel has not received all of the information it requested from the administration about the terrorist attack in Benghazi, ranking member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., will not move to delay the vote, a Republican aide said. Read more
- The Senate Finance Committee voted 19-5 in favor of Jacob Lew’s nomination as Treasury secretary today, The New York Times reports. Lew is expected to be confirmed by the full Senate in the coming days. Read more
CHRISTIE TO EXPAND MEDICAID IN NEW JERSEY. Republican Gov. Chris Christie will expand Medicaid in his state, The Star-Ledger of Newark reports. Christie, long a critic of the Affordable Care Act, is the eighth Republican governor to embrace the optional provision in the health reform law that offers federal financing to expand the program, breaking ranks with other state executives in his party. Christie, also a potential presidential candidate for 2016, will bring an additional $300 million to New Jersey under the expansion. Read more
BERNANKE ASSURES CONGRESS: ‘EASY MONEY’ POLICIES STAYING. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke signaled to Congress today that the Fed would continue its easy-money policies until it sees an uptick in the job market. Appearing for his semiannual report to Congress, Bernanke quelled market speculation the Fed was planning to move away from its policies promoting low-cost borrowing. Read more
McCAIN AND GRAHAM TO TALK IMMIGRATION, SEQUESTER WITH OBAMA. White House press secretary Jay Carney confirmed that Obama would meet with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Tuesday afternoon to discuss both immigration reform and the sequester. Both are part of an eight-person, bipartisan group that released an outline of immigration reform legislation in January. The Hill reported the group will talk about sticking points in the bill. Last week, a draft of a White House immigration reform bill leaked, leading Obama to apologize to McCain, Graham, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
TALIBAN ATTACKS WEREN’T ACTUALLY DOWN LAST YEAR. After incorrectly reporting a 7 percent decline in Taliban attacks in Afghanistan last year, the military has revised its reporting to show no change in the number of attacks, The Associated Press reports. The Obama administration had been painting a picture of a declining insurgency in the country. A spokesman for the U.S.-lead coalition in Afghanistan told AP that the revision does not affect the military’s assessment of the conflict. Read more
REPUBLICANS BACK GAY MARRIAGE BEFORE HIGH COURT. At least 75 prominent Republicans, including Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, have signed onto an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court in support of gay marriage, The New York Times reports. The signatories, who support striking down California’s Prop 8, include Florida Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and former Utah Gov. John Huntsman. Experts tell The Times that amicus curiae briefs rarely sway justices’ thinking, but that this brief does have the potential to swing a landmark ruling in favor of gay marriage. Read more
- “The ground on this is obviously changing, but it is changing more rapidly than people think.” -Republican strategist John Feehery
PRIMARY TO REPLACE JACKSON TODAY. Amid a messy mix of rain and snow, Chicago-area voters are heading to the primary polls today to select former Democratic Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.'s successor, Roll Call reports. Despite $2 million in attack ads funded by Michael Bloomberg against former Rep. Debbie Halvorson for her pro-gun record, she led Cook County Chief Administrative Officer Robin Kelly, 21 percent to 17 percent, in a poll conducted last week. But according to Roll Call, Kelly is still the favorite in the hard-to-call election. Read more
HILLARY CLINTON PAC GETS IN GEAR. The former secretary of State has not said whether she’ll run for president in 2016, but that apparently doesn’t matter to the “Ready for Hillary” political action committee. The PAC, which filed in January with the Federal Election Commission, has made its first major hire (Seth Bringman, a former communications staffer on Clinton’s 2008 run), according to BuzzFeed. The "Ready for Hillary" site is up, and the group's Twitter account has 51,000 followers. Read more
SUPREME COURT HEARS VOTING RIGHTS ACT CHALLENGE. The Supreme Court will hear arguments Wednesday that may ultimately decide whether a provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act remains constitutional. The clause, which has survived numerous legal challenges, “requires state and local governments that historically disenfranchised blacks and other minorities to obtain federal approval before altering voting practices,” The Wall Street Journal reports. Former President George W. Bush signed a 25-year reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act in 2006, but conservatives argue decades of work toward racial equality has rendered the clause an unconstitutional burden on states. Read more
FEINSTEIN HOLDS GUN HEARING. On Wednesday morning, Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., will chair a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on her bill to ban more than 150 types of firearms and limit high-capacity magazines. It’s one of four bills being considered, according to The New York Times, which notes the “process of narrowing actual legislative language will most likely dribble into next week.” Consensus on Capitol Hill is that expanded background checks have the best chance of passage. Read more
THE PECULIAR MECHANICS—AND HEARTBREAK—OF GAY DIVORCE. The second wave of marriage equality for gay couples is already on the horizon: divorce equality. As more same-sex couples are eligible to be married, more are eligible to be divorced. But it’s not that simple, Jesse Green writes in this week’s New York magazine cover story. For gay couples “the Byzantine chaos of current law can yield grotesque results. The problems arise from two main sources: differences among the states in their laws concerning gay relationships, and differences between the states and the federal government, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act, in their treatment of taxes, pensions, inheritance, and other transfers that may figure in settlements.” Read more
"We have moved a bill in the House twice. We should not have to move a third bill before the Senate gets off their ass and begins to do something." -- Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, on sequester, according to The Hill.
IS OBAMA SELLING ACCESS? The story broke a few weeks ago: the reconfigured Obama campaign apparatus, Organizing for Action, would seek $500,000 from top bundlers, and those deep-pocketed donors could, in exchange, be invited to quarterly meetings with president Obama. It didn’t gather much attention until The New York Times ran a piece over the weekend which baldly stated that the efforts have “plunged the president and his aides into a campaign finance limbo with few clear rules, ample potential for influence-peddling, and no real precedent in national politics.” That got the attention of people like NBC White House Correspondent Chuck Todd, who said on his MSNBC show this week, “This just looks bad–it looks like the White House is selling access.” OFA last week began an ad campaign targeting Republican lawmakers on gun-control legislation. Read more
PRESIDENT, LAWMAKERS WON’T FACE PAY CUT UNDER SEQUESTER. Congressional staffers, the people who actually do the work of government, face a 20 percent pay cut through furloughs under the sequester, Politico reports. But their bosses? Their six-figure salaries remain intact, prompting Politico’s Roger L. Simon to wonder, “Why did anybody expect Congress to be repelled by a sequester?” Not to be left out, the president’s $400,000 annual salary is also exempt from sequestration. Read more