By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
SEQUESTER SHOWDOWN: There were no signs at the White House yesterday that both sides are actively talking to avert the sequester. But White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said yesterday there's a "great deal of activity" behind the scenes to get something done, reports ABC's Devin Dwyer. At his briefing, Carney pointed fingers at the GOP: "This is an indefensible position. The choice that Republicans are making is …throw these people out of work in order to protect these special tax breaks for corporate jet owners and oil and gas companies. It's just - it makes no sense, and it's bad policy."
OBAMA WEIGHS IN: In an interview with WJZ, the CBS affiliate in Baltimore, President Obama expressed exasperation with Congress on the sequester: "This is a problem Congress can solve. These automatic spending cuts that were put in place back in 2011 were designed to get Congress to actually avoid them by coming up with more sensible approaches to deficit reduction. … I don't know why it is that this town leaves stuff until the last minute. There's no other profession, no other industry, where people wait until the 11th hour to solve these big problems. Obviously it creates a lot of uncertainty in the economy."
ON THE AGENDA: President Obama spends the day behind closed-doors at the White House. ABC's Mary Bruce notes that the president records three radio interviews with Al Sharpton, Joe Madison and Yolanda Adams. At 12:30 pm ET Vice President Biden delivers the keynote address at a conference on the federal response to gun violence in Danbury, Conn., just miles from the Newtown shooting at Sandy Hook elementary.
TUNE IN - ROBIN ROBERTS SITS DOWN WITH MICHELLE OBAMA: "Good Morning America" co-anchor Robin Roberts will interview First Lady Michelle Obama to discuss the third anniversary of Let's Move! and a new partnership that makes finding healthy, reliable recipes easy for busy parents, among other topics. This will be Mrs. Obama's first morning show interview and will air on "Good Morning America" on Tuesday, Feb. 26. http://abcn.ws/XkrnUH
ABC's RICK KLEIN: It's not that President Obama is on the wrong side. But he's going to have to convince the public that he's got the timing right. The new USA Today-Pew Research Center poll out today shows broad support for the president's approach on the top issues of the day - the deficit, gun control, immigration, and climate change. But when it comes to questions of urgency, the only issue with overwhelming consensus that it needs to be dealt with this year is the deficit, where 70 percent find it "essential" to tackle this year. That, of course, is the only one of the four issues being championed by Republican leaders. Read the full poll: http://usat.ly/11WwuPl
ABC's Z. BYRON WOLF: The news that former Sen. Pete Domenici fathered a child with former Sen. Paul Laxalt's daughter in the late 1970s was, to say the least, weird. The details of what happened have been blurred by time and the fact that both men are now out of office diminishes its importance as a piece of news today. But it should be noted that opponents of gridlock often complain that comity and deal-making on Capitol Hill have diminished as lawmakers have less frequently moved to the nation's capital. Their families don't spend as much time together goes the argument. Who knows if the Domenicis and the Laxalts were friendly before this episode or what happened in their personal drama after. But one can only imagine what it was like in the dozen years they served together in the Senate afterward.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Just one day after we learned Mitt Romney will make his first public appearance since the election when he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference next month, several of his former staffers who work with Massachusetts U.S. Senate candidate Gabriel Gomez are out with a new video, the first of his new campaign. The video shows Gomez and his family collecting signatures ahead of next week's deadline at both a shipyard and a diner. The contrast between the two candidates is stark. Gomez is relaxed, comfortable greeting voters in both English and Spanish noting his work as a Navy SEAL, add in his cute kids asking commuters to support their dad and it's a very well done spot. One thing is clear, despite sharing a few staffers, they want the state to know Gomez is more Scott Brown than Mitt Romney. There's no pickup truck yet, but maybe his run will feature a boat.
OBAMA: IMMIGRATION LEAK WON'T BLOCK REFORM. President Barack Obama on Wednesday confidently promised that Congress will pass a comprehensive immigration reform bill, saying that a leaked copy of a White House proposal won't jeopardize the effort to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, reports ABC-Univision's Jordan Fabian. A draft White House immigration plan leaked to the press over the weekend, which frustrated some Republicans working on a bill, since Obama pledged to withhold his plan while lawmakers crafted their own. The White House claimed this week that the leak was unintentional and the president phoned GOP senators to reiterate that he supports the negotiations in Congress. "It certainly did not jeopardize the entire process. The negotiations are still moving forward," Obama said during an interview with Univision San Antonio affiliate KWEX. "Information floats out of Washington all the time; that shouldn't prevent anybody from moving forward." http://abcn.ws/W4HKGM
WHITE HOUSE UNVEILS STRATEGY TO STEM TRADE SECRET THEFT. The White House announced its strategy to protect against trade secret theft Wednesday, just one day after a report indicated a Chinese military unit may be responsible for a string of cyber attacks on American infrastructure and corporations, reports ABC's Arlette Saenz. "The theft of trade secrets impacts national security, undermines our global competitiveness, diminishes U.S. exports process and puts American jobs at risk," Victoria Espinel, U.S. Intellectual Property Enforcement Coordinator, said at a White House meeting on Wednesday. "As an administration, we will be vigilant in addressing threats including corporate and state sponsored trade secret theft that jeopardize our status as the world's leader for innovation. We will act vigorously to combat theft of U.S. trade secrets that could be used by foreign companies or by foreign governments to gain an unfair economic edge." Attorney General Eric Holder echoed the sentiment, saying the U.S. needs to increase cooperation and coordination "between partners at every level of government [and] improve engagement with the corporations represented in this room today." He added that "continuing technological expansion and accelerating globalization" will only lead to a dramatic "increase in the threat posed by trade secret theft in the years ahead." http://abcn.ws/Xm0P5u
SECRETARY KERRY MAKES CASE FOR FOREIGN AID. In his first major foreign policy speech as Secretary of State, John Kerry's message was clear: America cannot afford to treat foreign policy as foreign. He stressed throughout the one hour speech that even in these economically challenging times, foreign aid is an investment in America's national security and economic prosperity, notes ABC's Dana Hughes. The former senator, who called himself a "recovering politician," said that he understands why foreign aid makes an easy political target for members of Congress, whose constituents expect them to focus on domestic policies that benefit the everyday lives of Americans. But Kerry said foreign policy has to rise above partisan politics. "We need to say no to the politics of the lowest common denominator and simple slogans, and start making real choices that protect the interests of our country," said Kerry to applause. "Unfortunately, the State Department doesn't have our own Grover Norquist pushing a pledge to protect it. We don't have millions of A.A.R.P. seniors who send in their dues and rally to protect America's investments overseas," he said. http://abcn.ws/W4l0XB
MITT ROMNEY TO MAKE FIRST POST-ELECTION SPEECH. Former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney will making his first public appearance since losing his presidential bid last November when he speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, reports ABC's Shushannah Walshe. "I look forward to saying thank you to the many friends and supporters who were instrumental in helping my campaign," Romney said in a statement. An advisor to Romney told ABC News the speech is "an opportunity for him to express his appreciation to supporters and friends." American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas said "the thousands gathered at CPAC this year are eager to hear" from Romney. "We look forward to hearing Governor Romney's comments on the current state of affairs in America and the world, and his perspective on the future of the conservative movement," Cardenas said in a statement. The gathering of conservative activists will be held in mid-March at the Gaylord National hotel in Prince George's County, Maryland. http://abcn.ws/YGV4fx
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
-HOUSE SPEAKER JOHN BOEHNER HONORS ROSA PARKS. Less than a week before the unveiling of a statue of Rosa Parks in the U.S. Capitol, House Speaker John Boehner is out with a new video previewing the event. "Next week, we're going to do something special in the Capitol. We're going to dedicate a statue of civil rights icon Rosa Parks, who changed the world one December evening in 1955 without getting up from her seat," Boehner says from the balcony of the chamber where the ceremony will take place next Wednesday. "All of the statues in this building are important, but none honor an African-American woman … that is, until next week, when Mrs. Parks takes her rightful place alongside the inventors, war heroes, freedom fighters, and doers who represent the heart of the American story. It's another breakthrough for someone who has made so many of them possible. … I hope you'll tune in and watch this historic ceremony live at Speaker.gov, starting at 11 am next Wednesday, the 27th." WATCH: http://bit.ly/11XdYqc
-ENERGY GROUP BLASTS LIKELY EPA PICK. A GOP strategist passes along this statement from Benjamin Cole of the American Energy Alliance on President Obama's likely pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency: "For those who were in doubt, the president's decision to replace Lisa Jackson with Gina McCarthy allays all concern. The EPA will continue its anti-fossil fuel crusade undeterred, and the administration will continue to avoid normal democratic means to legislate the president's climate change agenda through the regulatory agencies. The EPA will look as different under Gina McCarthy as Cuba looked when Uncle Fidel passed the hammer and sickle to his little brother Raul."
@JesseFFerguson: The Hill: "DCCC places sequestration blame on Republicans with new ads" http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/house-races/284151-dccc-places-sequestration-blame-on-republicans-with-new-ads …
@jasondhorowitz: "It does hurt," McCain said softly. "…and I wish that it didn't. But it does." http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/john-mccain-republican-senator-is-still-raising-questions-and-hackles/2013/02/20/32500cf6-7b84-11e2-9a75-dab0201670da_story.html?wpmk=MK0000205 …
@ThePlumLineGS: Most impt finding in new Pew poll: On every major issue, GOP position is held by 1/3 or fewer Americans: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2013/02/21/the-morning-plum-on-issues-gop-is-badly-out-of-step-with-america/ …