Graham Threatens Brennan, Hagel Confirmations

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GRAHAM THREATENS BRENNAN, HAGEL CONFIRMATIONS. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., said Sunday on CBS News’s Face the Nation that he would take steps to delay the confirmations of President Obama’s nominees for CIA director, John Brennan, and secretary of Defense, former Sen. Chuck Hagel. While he wouldn’t commit to a filibuster, he did threaten to put “holds” on the process, according to The Washington Post. Graham is demanding still more information on the terrorist attacks in Libya. “Did the president ever pick up the phone and call anyone in the Libyan government to help these folks? What did the president do?” he said. Meanwhile, Politico reports that some Republicans could walk out of Hagel’s committee vote in protest. Read more
OBAMA WILL TALK JOBS IN SOTU. Obama plans to spend his State of the Union address discussing jobs—and that can't come soon enough, writes National Journal's Ron Fournier, who argues that the American public isn't yet convinced that jobs are the priority for the president. "White House officials tell me they feel stung by coverage of the inaugural address. Reporters highlighted the president’s left-leaning stances on immigration, gun control, climate change and gay and women’s rights. Obama’s aides argue that he devoted more inaugural address language to the economy, jobs and the deficit than all other issues combined," he writes. "Still, the perception remains that Obama lost focus on the economy – the top issue in the minds of most voters." Read more

IN ADDRESS, PRESIDENT SHOULD THINK BIG. Obama's State of the Union will be the focus of this week, and he'll have a chance to counter the impression that amid all his talk of guns and immigration, he's neglecting the economy. But it won’t be easy, writes National Journal's Jill Lawrence. The solution: think big. "He ought to devote his whole State of the Union speech to sketching out grand bargains on all of those topics plus jobs, immigration, education, and energy," she writes. It’s the right strategic move, it’s the right policy move, and it’s also the right move rhetorically. Read more

OBAMA WILL ADDRESS NUCLEAR REDUCTION IN SOTU. President Obama will call for a drastic worldwide nuclear arms reduction in his State of the Union address Tuesday, The New York Times reported. Although administration officials said that the President won’t discuss specific numbers, indications are that his goal is to slash the arsenal of deployed weapons to just above 1,000, according to The Times. Currently, there are roughly 1,700 nuclear weapons, with plans to reduce that number to 1,550 by 2018, as dictated by an arms reduction treaty with Russia passed in 2009. Read more

POPE TO RESIGN, FIRST IN SIX CENTURIES. Pope Benedict XVI will step down as head of the Catholic Church on February 28. The former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, 85, who took office in 2005, will be the first pope to resign in six centuries, according to The New York Times. He cited his advanced age as the reason. "After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry," he said in a statement . "I am well aware that this ministry, due to its essential spiritual nature, must be carried out not only with words and deeds, but no less with prayer and suffering." Read more


ALL EYES ON CONGRESS AS SEQUESTER DEADLINE NEARS. With less than three weeks left before the budget sequestration cuts are scheduled to hit, congressional Republicans and Democrats barrel into a contentious week. President Obama’s State of the Union address on Tuesday is expected to shape not just his agenda for the year, but the stretch run of this latest budget showdown. While Obama’s address Tuesday night will dominate the week, legislative floor maneuverings and hearings will also draw attention. Among the highlights for the week are a confirmation hearing for Jacob Lew, the nominee for Treasury Secretary, and a vote in the Senate on the Violence Against Women Act. Read more

McCAIN ‘CAUTIOUSLY OPTIMISTIC’ ON IMMIGRATION IN HOUSE. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., one of a group of eight senators who earlier this year proposed an immigration plan, said he believed that if the Senate were to pass a bill on immigration reform, the House could feel pressured to follow suit. Speaking on Fox News Sunday, McCain cited the low number of Latinos who voted for Republicans this last election cycle, saying he was “cautiously optimistic that with the President and the Senate basically acting together that that would be sufficient to have the House, to agree with that, if it’s reasonable with the majority of the American people." Read more

HERITAGE LOBBIES AGAINST CHILDREN’S HEALTH – AND HOUSE GOP LEADERSHIP. Some House Republicans are none too happy with the Heritage Foundation, saying the conservative group’s political arm used skewed data to lobby against a bill to fund children’s hospitals. “It puts members in an awful situation because they didn’t have all the facts, and in a situation where we’re voting against medical care for children,” a senior House Republican aide told National Journal. At issue was a bill to spend $330 million a year to train pediatricians and pediatric specialists at 55 children’s hospitals across the country, a measure that Heritage opposed. Read more

FIVE HILL POSITIONS TO WATCH: HOUSE FINANCIAL SERVICES. A shake-up in leadership at the House Financial Services Committee has led to significant staff turnover. Many who worked with former Chairman Spencer Bachus, R-Ala., and former ranking member Barney Frank, D-Mass., have left, and a new crop of top aides is getting settled under Chairman Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, and ranking member Maxine Waters, D-Calif. In National JournalDaily’s new Hot Seats feature, Stacy Kaper rounds up the new faces. Read more

WHAT IS 3-D PRINTING AND WHAT DOES CONGRESS HAVE TO DO WITH IT?  Last month, Congress entered the brave new world of 3-D printing after gun enthusiast Cody Wilson uploaded a video of himself on YouTube firing a semiautomatic rifle loaded with a homemade high-capacity magazine. The plastic magazine, manufactured on a 3-D printer, was designed to send a message: Congress, and the Obama administration, can try to ban such magazines, but technology is outpacing efforts at gun control. Read more

PELOSI: ‘FALSE ARGUMENT’ TO SAY U.S. HAS SPENDING PROBLEM. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi argued that spending cuts have already occurred, saying: “we've had plenty of spending cuts, $1.6 trillion in the Budget Control Act. What we need is growth," she said in an interview on Fox News Sunday. She added: "It is almost a false argument to say we have a spending problem," though she argued for a “balanced” approach between more cuts and more revenue and the need to avoid sequester. Read more


OBAMA MAY USE EXECUTIVE ACTION ON HOUSING, GAYS. President Obama is weighing a series of executive actions that would address key items on his agenda without the need for legislation from the gridlocked Congress. Some items he is considering include policies that would help struggling homeowners refinance their mortgages, initiate new protections for gays and lesbians, increase energy efficiency in new construction, and tighten regulations for coal-fired power plants, The Washington Post reports. Read more

MEDAL OF HONOR RECIPIENT TO JOIN MICHELLE OBAMA AT SOTU. Former Staff Sergeant Clint Romesha, who will be awarded the Medal of Honor in a ceremony today, will also be a guest of the first lady at Tuesday's State of the Union address. Romesha will be the fourth living service member from the war in Afghanistan to receive the medal. Romesha is being awarded the medal for leading the charge to recover a camp at Combat Outpost Keating, in Afghanistan, where he and 52 other soldiers were attacked by up to 400 Taliban fighters. Eight Americans were killed in the battle. Read more

OBAMA TO HEAD TO ASHEVILLE, N.C. Following his Tuesday delivery of the State of the Union, Obama will do what all modern presidents do: hit the road to build momentum for the policies they outlined. On Wednesday, the president will travel to the Asheville, N.C., and on Thursday he heads to Atlanta. Friday, he'll hit Chicago for a third event that will focus on gun control, according to The Chicago Tribune.

WHITE HOUSE WARNS SEQUESTER COULD BRING FURLOUGHS. An Obama administration official warned that hundreds of thousands of federal employees could be furloughed if the sequester takes effect on March 1, The Washington Post reports. “If we go past this date, there’s certainly — there’s no way to implement the sequester without significant furloughs of hundreds of thousands of federal employees,” Danny Werfel, federal controller for the Office of Management and Budget, told a press briefing Friday. Read more 


KING ELABORATES ON DRONE OVERSIGHT PLAN. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, outlined his proposal on Sunday to create a special court to monitor drone strikes against U.S. citizens suspected of terrorism, Roll Call reports. On CNN’s State of the Union, King said the oversight group would not stop intelligence officials from targeting people suspected of plotting an imminent attack against the United States. “Often these strikes are planned weeks in advance,” King said. Obama’s nominee for CIA director, John Brennan, said in his Senate hearing he had rejected the idea in the past, but would be willing to revisit it. Read more

IRAN BACKS PRO-ASSAD FORCES, U.S. UNLIKELY TO CHANGE STANCE ON AID. Forces loyal to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and opposition groups are preparing for a major fight in the country’s capital this week, The Wall Street Journal reports. But don’t expect the Obama administration to change its stance on providing only humanitarian aid to the country, despite the State Department and Defense Department backing plans to arm rebel groups. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney reiterated the administration’s caution Friday: “We don't want any weapons to fall into the wrong hands,” he said. But new Secretary of State John Kerry did say Friday that there was a “new discussion” on Syria taking place inside the administration, Foreign Policy reports. Read more  

PERHAPS FOR LAST TIME, A TRANSITION OF POWER IN AFGHANISTAN. The United States and international forces in Afghanistan passed control to a new leader Sunday, as Gen. Joseph Dunford took over from Gen. John Allen, who has led the combined forces for the past 19 months. It is perhaps the last transition of leadership in a conflict that has extended for a dozen years. Both NATO and the United States have committed to removing nearly all troops by the end of 2014. “Today is not about change, it’s about continuity,” Dunford told a gathering of coalition military leaders and Afghan officials, according to the Associated Press. “What’s not changed is the growing capability of our Afghan partners, the Afghan national security forces.” Read more


CHENEY BLASTS OBAMA NOMINEES AS ‘SECOND-RATE.’ Former Vice President Dick Cheney said on Saturday that Obama has “jeopardized U.S. national security by nominating substandard candidates for key cabinet posts and by degrading the U.S. military,” according to CBS News. Specifically, Cheney pointed to secretary of State, CIA director, and secretary of Defense as areas Obama had made mistakes by nominating what he called “second-rate people.” Read more

DEM INSIDERS: SEQUESTER WOULD HURT GOP. National Journal’s Political Insiders poll show respondents split over which party would be hurt if the sequester goes into effect. But Democrats disproportionately say the cuts would hurt Republicans, with 50 percent saying the GOP would suffer. "The GOP is seen as the party of ‘No,’” said one Democratic Insider. “There is now a perception with voters that when the wheels fall off the government cart it's probably because of Republican intransigence." Republicans, meanwhile, expect the sequester will hurt both parties equally, in part because the public sees Washington as dysfunctional. Read more

BLIZZARD COULD LEAVE GOP WITHOUT MASS. SENATE CONTENDER. Some Bay State Republicans are concerned that the storm that blanketed the commonwealth this weekend could jeopardize the ability of state Rep. Dan Winslow and other GOP candidates to qualify for the ballot in the special election to replace Secretary of State John Kerry, a former senator. Candidates for the special election must submit 10,000 certified signatures by Feb. 27 to qualify for the April 30 primary. With Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick declaring a state of emergency Friday afternoon and banning cars from driving on the roads, Senate contenders are forced to put a hold on signature collecting until the storm passes. "I think any day lost is obviously going to be a huge impediment," said Massachusetts GOP strategist Meredith Warren. Read more

GUBERNATORIAL CANDIDATES PUT DECISIONS ON CALENDAR. In at least three gubernatorial contests between 2013 and 2014, major potential candidates have given themselves rough deadlines to make decisions about whether they will run. But none of the possible contenders expect to do so in the next month. Virginia Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling said this week that he will announce whether he is seeking an independent bid for the Nov. 5 general election by March 14. In Maine, on Thursday, former Democratic Gov. John Baldacci told the Portland Press Herald that he planned to make a decision "in the April time frame." Texas Gov. Rick Perry has announced that he will decide in either June or July whether to mount a fourth bid for the executive mansion in Texas. Read more

MO. GOP PICKS JASON SMITH FOR OPEN HOUSE SEAT. Missouri state House Speaker Pro Tem Jason Smith has been tapped as the Republican nominee in the special election to replace former Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo., and the district's Republican makeup makes it likely he will win the June 4 special election. Smith bested nine other possible nominees, including Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, former Missouri Republican Party director Lloyd Smith, state Sen. Jason Crowell and state Rep. Todd Richardson, who were all considered top-tier contenders. Read more


HOUSE TO HOLD FIRST ENERGY VOTES THIS WEEK. The House is set hold its first energy votes of the 113th Congress this week. Though Washington is focused on the proposed Keystone pipeline, offshore drilling, and America’s natural gas boom, the votes will come on a pair of hydropower bills. H.R. 267, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, sponsored by Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., would promote hydroelectric development. H.R. 316, the Collinsville Renewable Energy Promotion Act, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., would “reinstate and transfer certain hydroelectric licenses and extend the deadline for commencement of construction of certain hydroelectric projects.”
INTERIOR TO INVESTIGATE COAL ROYALTIES. The Interior Department announced on Friday an investigation into the export practices of coal companies that mine on federal lands, Reuters reported. The announcement follows an investigation by Reuters that alleged that coal companies were minimizing the value of exported coal to skirt royalty payments to the federal government. The practice could be costing the government hundreds of millions of dollars, which prompted Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and ranking member Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, to send a letter to Interior expressing concern. The investigation could produce both criminal and civil charges, Reuters reported. Read more

KERRY PROMISES KEYSTONE DECISION IN ‘NEAR TERM.’ Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday that a State Department ruling on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline would come soon, The Hill reported. “I don’t want to pin down precisely when, but I assure you, in the near term,” he said following a meeting with his Canadian counterpart, John Baird. The Canadian government has been pushing for State to give the pipeline, which would carry oil from the Alberta Tar Sands to U.S. refineries, the go-ahead. The State Department has previously said a decision will not come before the end of March. Kerry vowed State’s deliberations would be “fair… transparent, [and] accountable.” Read more 


LESS THAN MEETS THE EYE WITH 2011 BUDGET CUTS.  Remember when Washington patted itself on the back for averting a government shutdown while at the same time agreeing to $37.8 billion in cuts? Well, as The Washington Post reports,the bill “turned out to be an epic kind of Washington illusion. It was stuffed with gimmicks that made the cuts seem far bigger — and the politicians far bolder — than they actually were.” Some of those illusions included a $280 million tunnel that had already been canceled and a “cut” of nearly $400,000 on a road project that had been created by a typo. Read more

LINKING SEC AND INDUSTRY. Former Securities and Exchange Commission employees routinely helped companies overseen by the regulator to influence rulemaking, soften enforcement actions, and secure exemptions from federal law, according to a report that will be released Monday by the Project On Government Oversight. POGO – an independent watchdog group – studied disclosure statements filed from 2001 through 2010 and said it found numerous instances where the line between regulator and industry was blurred. Read more

IN A FIRST, CHINA EDGES U.S. IN TOTAL TRADE.  China was “the world’s biggest trading nation last year as measured by the sum of exports and imports of goods,” Bloomberg reports, besting the U.S. in that category. The U.S. total from 2012 was $3.82 trillion, according to U.S government figures, while China’s customs administration reported last month that the country’s total was $3.87 trillion. The last time China was considered the world’s biggest economy was during the 18th century. Still, some economists have doubts about China’s numbers. Read more

CHINA MAKING PROGRESS ACQUIRING U.S. FIRMS. More good news for the Chinese: they’re having an easier time buying American companies than they used to, The Wall Street Journal reports, by “targeting smaller companies, going after minority stakes and avoiding the most sensitive acquisition target.” In the coming weeks, the Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., a government group that reviews foreign deals, will be weighing two “multi-billion dollar deals.” As The Journal reports: “Last year, Chinese buyers agreed to spend more than $10 billion in 46 deals to acquire U.S. companies or stakes in U.S. firms.” The total was higher than the Chinese totals from 2009 through 2011 combined. Included in the tally is movie-theater chain AMC Entertainment Holdings, which was sold to Wanda Group for $700 million.  Read more


HOSPITALS GEARING UP FOR MEDICAID FIGHT. In the months after the Supreme Court ruled that states could opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion, Republican governors were outspoken in their opposition to increasing the size of the program. The last few months have seen major cracks in that unified opposition. Six GOP governors have now come out in favor of expansion, including, most recently, Ohio’s John Kasich and Michigan’s Rick Snyder. Virginia’s state senate just endorsed an expansion, suggesting that state might be next to shift. Much of the thanks goes to hospitals, which have been aggressively lobbying behind the scenes. Even in Florida, where Gov. Rick Scott has come out strongly against expansion, the hospitals are mounting an aggressive campaign. On Friday, the Florida Hospital Association released a poll finding that 62 percent of Florida voters support expansion.

WYDEN WON'T TAKE ON MEDICARE WITH RYAN AGAIN. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., is done working with Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., on Medicare reform, The Hill reports. The two put out a proposal together in 2011 that later inspired presidential candidate Mitt Romney's healthcare plan. Wyden, however, says the House Republicans’ plan to balance the budget within 10 years will make it "very hard to get Democratic support." Read more

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