By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
EXCLUSIVE - A RARE SEQUESTER MEETING AT THE WHITE HOUSE. A Congressional source tells ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl that the top four Congressional leaders - Boehner, Reid, Pelosi and McConnell - will meet with President Obama at the White House on Friday to attempt to negotiate a way to avoid the across-the-board spending cuts that both sides have said should be avoided. This meeting - the very first one the President has had with Republican leaders to talk about the across-the-board cuts known as the sequester - will come after the cuts actually go into effect (midnight Thursday). White House Press Secretary Jay Carney would not confirm the meeting, but the source tells ABC News that the White House reached out to the Congressional leadership on Tuesday afternoon to request the meeting. http://abcn.ws/XCha6a
DAMAGE CONTROL: Most Americans think both Barack Obama and the Republicans in Congress are mishandling government spending, according to a new ABC News-Washington Post poll out this morning, but on the brink of across-the-board budget cuts, it's the GOP that receives disproportionately more flak, including from its own partisan and ideological base. ABC polling analyst Greg Holyk notes that while 52 percent of adults in the poll disapprove of Obama's handling of federal spending, that jumps to 67 percent disapproval for the GOP, a substantial 15-point gap in the president's favor. Majorities even of Republicans and conservatives rate the Republican Party negatively on its handling of the budget. Obama, by contrast, retains broad support in his partisan corner. And his approval among independents, though weak, is 13 percentage points better than the GOP's. http://abcn.ws/128PkDd
ABC NEWS NAMES POLITICAL DIRECTOR: An announcement from ABC News President Ben Sherwood: "I am pleased to announce that Rick Klein is moving into an important role as Political Director of ABC News. In a job created by the legendary Hal Bruno, Rick will oversee the political unit and lead our digital efforts around politics while helping to steer the network's coverage of major news events on all platforms. Rick's sharp instincts and penetrating insights played a critical role throughout the 2012 election cycle, helping guide World News reporting on campaigns and political battles in Washington. Whether contributing to 'The Note' or co-anchoring live-stream coverage from the conventions, Rick plays a key role in our online efforts. And as co-host of 'Top Line,' Rick has helped to make our 'Power Players' series with Yahoo! one of the most watched video series online. … As you can see in recent days, our powerhouse political team is bulking up and taking shape for the most important news, debate, drama and intrigue of this year and beyond."
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Can we have a real fight now? Chuck Hagel is confirmed, as he was always going to be, and the sequester is going into effect, as it never was supposed to. On the surface, the new ABC News-Washington Post poll shows more danger for the GOP than for President Obama as the budget cuts play out in slow motion - the president has the public on his side on handling budget crises. But that only underscores the stakes for the president in getting the nation to care. In an era of fake fights, and exaggerations around impact of government actions, skepticism abounds.
ABC's CHRIS GOOD: The next fiscal-crisis date to remember is March 27. With no news of an imminent grand deal, budget sequestration is poised to take effect on Friday. We may find out whether the administration has faked its warnings of long TSA lines, a porous border, slower extreme-weather forecasts, prison violence, and terrorist plots going un-thwarted. The worst consequences might not be felt until early April, when government furloughs begin, but a convenient deadline awaits before then: On March 27, the current government-funding measure will expire. Congress and Obama will have to agree to extend current levels or modify them. It seems that would be a good time for sides to agree on something, even if it only includes enough deficit reduction to buy a few months. Bottom line: Sequestration could happen, then be nullified by an agreement in late March before the worst purported calamities befall us.
ABC'S SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: The group of 80 plus Republicans that have already signed the Supreme Court amicus brief in support of same sex marriage is an interesting and somewhat diverse group of Republicans, but according to at least one of the signers there are many more who are almost "there" on the issue, but the politics of the issue are hard to overcome. Margaret Hoover is a GOP strategist who worked in the George W. Bush White House alongside Ken Mehlman, who spearheaded the effort to get prominent Republicans to sign on to the brief. She has been working on the issue for years and says "if the Republican Party wants to be relevant in blue states, wants to be relevant on the coasts, wants to be relevant in urban areas, we have to be right on this issue." Hoover noted there are many more Republicans that are supportive of same sex marriage "in their hearts," but because they are in elected office they are "not sure about the politics."
ABC's LUIS MARTINEZ: This morning officially marked a changing of the guard at the Pentagon when Chuck Hagel arrived there for his first day on the job. But it seems that even the new Defense Secretary is not immune to some worldly hazards. Hagel's arrival was scheduled for 7:30 a.m., but he arrived 40 minutes late as he was caught in DC traffic. Marine Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser walked up to the door of Hagel's SUV and greeted the incoming secretary with a salute. Waldhauser will serve as Hagel's military aide - the same job he did for Leon Panetta. Afterward, Hagel and his wife Lillibet walked up the stairs into the building and turned to say "good morning" to the reporters on hand for his arrival. He has already been sworn in and he'll offer opening remarks to Pentagon staff at a 10:30 a.m. ceremony in the Pentagon Auditorium.
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX
-JIM MESSINA LAUNCHES NEW VENTURE. A press release this morning announces the formation of the Messina Group: "One of the key leaders of President Barack Obama's successful campaign for a second term, Obama for America 2012 campaign manager Jim Messina announced today the launch of The Messina Group. The group will advise organizations and political campaigns who want to build movements, services and products that succeed by being data-driven, digitally savvy and grassroots focused. About The Messina Group: Jim Messina served as campaign manager for President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election. Previously, Messina served as Deputy Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2011, as Director of Personnel for the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition and as national chief of staff for Obama for America 2008. … Ty Matsdorf is a political communications strategist who has run communication and research operations during campaigns, the U.S. Senate and organizations across the country. Matsdorf also served as the War Room Director for the Democratic Super Pac American Bridge. Most recently, Matsdorf headed up the communications operation for Obama for America-Nevada. … Tara Corrigan has served as part of "Team Obama" since September 2007."
-BOEHNER'S BIG NUMBER - 1,400 DAYS: An aide to House Speaker John Boehner e-mails The Note to remind that today marks 1,400 days since Senate Democrats passed a budget. "To highlight the occasion, and underscore the need to address our debt crisis with smarter spending cuts and reforms, we're releasing an infographic on things a person could do with their $52,000 share of the national debt," the aide says. "For example, your share of the debt could cover seven years' worth of grocery bills, four years of rent, and more." GRAPHIC: http://1.usa.gov/XFQuOP
VIDEO OF THE DAY: A TOUR OF THE MOST DANGEROUS PLACES IN THE WORLD WITH FORMER GEN. JAMES CARTWRIGHT. From the "genocidal type" war in Syria to the growing presence of al Qaeda affiliates in Northern Africa, former Gen. James Cartwright tells ABC's Martha Raddatz, host of the ABC News/Yahoo "Power Players"series "On the Radar" that he's concerned about the growing number of potentially volatile regions around the world. "They're spreading rather than consolidating," the retired general says of the dangerous areas around the world, known as hotspots. "Africa is probably the biggest one that we are…are seeing in the media right now with the Mali challenge, but that's not limited to Mali." The growing threat of Africa can be traced in large part to the expansion of al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups such as al Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM) - the group behind the recent hostage situation at a natural gas facility in Algeria. Cartwright says the threat posed by offspring al Qaeda groups in Africa shouldn't be underestimated. WATCH: http://yhoo.it/Yz7Luw
WHAT WE'RE READING
"THE REAL REASON WHY CHRIS CHRISTIE WASN'T INVITED TO CPAC," by The National Journal's Elahe Izadi . "New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie was not invited to speak at the annual CPAC conference this year because he broke with conservatives on key issues over the past year, according to American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas. Cardenas, whose group organizes the conference, wrote in an e-mail to National Journal that while CPAC was 'proud' to invite Christie last year based on his record of balancing the budget and taking on teachers unions, Christie's record over the past year is far less conservative. 'CPAC is like the all-star game for professional athletes; you get invited when you have had an outstanding year,' Cardenas said. 'Hopefully he will have another all-star year in the future, at which time we will be happy to extend an invitation. This is a conservative conference, not a Republican Party event.' Cardenas cited Christie's decision to expand Medicaid under President Obama's health care law and his support of a $60 billion aid package for Hurricane Sandy victims, which he argued was filled with wasteful spending." http://bit.ly/WgHEfw
TODAY ON THE HILL: ABC's Arlette Saenz and John Parkinson report: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he hopes there will be a vote on the confirmation of Jack Lew as Secretary of Treasury today. Meanwhile, Congressional leaders welcome President Obama to the Capitol for a ceremony unveiling a new statue of Rosa Parks. And this afternoon House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan and other House Republican leaders highlight the effects of the national debt on America's youth. The press conference will follow House Republicans' inaugural "Millennial Meetup" roundtable, in which they will meet with young leaders from across America to discuss the impact of the national debt and how to most effectively reduce it.
REPUBLICANS SUPPORTING GAY MARRIAGE WRITE SUPREME COURT BRIEF. The issue of same sex marriage is dividing the Republican Party as a group of more than 80 prominent members of the GOP ranging from Dick Cheney's daughter to four former governors have signed an amicus brief before the Supreme Court advocating for the legalization of gay marriage, reports ABC's Shushannah Walshe. The document, known as an amicus or "friend of the court" brief, is being submitted in support of a lawsuit aiming to strike down Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that passed in 2008 banning same sex marriage. The existence of the brief was first reported by the New York Times. Signers included former congresswoman Mary Bono Mack of California, former presidential candidate Jon Huntsman and Meg Whitman, who supported Prop 8 when she ran for governor of California in 2010. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, Richard Hanna of New York and former GOP national chairman Ken Mehlman also signed. In addition, three former Massachusetts governors - William Weld, Jane Swift, and Paul Cellucci - along with former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman are signers. The list also includes Republican attorney and Romney senior adviser Ben Ginsberg and other high profile GOP leaders, strategists, consultants, and staffers. http://abcn.ws/15haaho
OBAMA DENIES SEQUESTER 'SPIN' IN SHIPYARD SPEECH. President Obama yesterday took aim at skeptics of his dire warnings about the sequester, insisting the "meat-cleaver" approach to deficit reduction will harm the military, defense contractors, suppliers and their families the most if it hits in two days, reports ABC's Devin Dwyer. "I'm not interested in spin. I'm not interested in playing a blame game. At this point, all I'm interested in is just solving problems," Obama told a crowd of workers inside a submarine assembly facility at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia. "I want us to be able to look back five years from now, 10 years from now, and say we took care of our business and we put an end to some of these games that maybe, I guess, are entertaining for some but are hurting too many people," he said, referring to congressional Republicans. http://abcn.ws/WpsYoV
LIBERAL SUPER PAC BACKTRACKS ON 'RACIST' TWEETS AGAINST EX-LABOR SEC. A liberal super PAC in Kentucky is backtracking on tweets that accuse former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao of using influence over her husband, Sen. Mitch McConnell, to benefit the Chinese economy at America's expense. ABC's Sarah Parnass and Z. Byron Wolf reported that Progress Kentucky has disseminated many tweets in the past month supposedly drawing links from McConnell, R-Ky., his wife and his father-in-law to Chinese business interests. WFPL News of Louisville first made note of the tweets, referencing one sent on Valentine's Day reading, "This woman has the ear of @McConnellPress - she's his #wife. May explain why your job moved to #China," and linking to an article that accused Chao of racist attitudes toward U.S. workers based on remarks she made in 2007. The article referenced in that accusation portrayed Chao's expressing concern about America's ability to compete with foreign workers. "American employees must be punctual, dress appropriately and have good personal hygiene," Chao is quoted as saying in that article. "They need anger management and conflict-resolution skills, and they have to be able to accept direction. Too many young people bristle when a supervisor asks them to do something." http://abcn.ws/XeLx1s
HAPPENING TODAY: From an aide to the National Republican Senatorial Committee: While Ashley Judd and the Kentucky Democratic Party condemned the attack, National Democrats and prominent Democratic Officials from Kentucky remained silent including: DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DSCC Chairman Michael Bennet, DCCC Chairman Steve Israel, Senate Leaders Harry Reid and Chuck Schumer, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, and Congressman John Yarmuth (D-KY). The NRSC will call on each of them to respond to the attack. "Leading Democrats should condemn Progress Kentucky's disgusting attack and should refuse to accept funding or resources from the Super PAC," said NRSC spokesman Brad Dayspring. "Democratic Leaders' silence sends the signal that this kind of racist attack is acceptable, and we sincerely hope that isn't the case."
@jasoninthehouse: Later this morning I am helping to introduce a bi-partisan bill to address Patent Trolls. More to come…
@evanmc_s: Been looking forward to this @marincogan story abt DC men behaving badly http://www.newrepublic.com/article/112486/psycho-sexual-ordeal-reporting-washington …