White House on Damage Control After Leak

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WHITE HOUSE ON DAMAGE CONTROL AFTER LEAK. After the draft of a White House immigration proposal was leaked to USA Today late Saturday, the administration is working to calm down the bipartisan group of lawmakers who are crafting their own compromise legislation. The White House is insisting it did not intend to leak the document, in the face of comments from Republicans who are furious that it worked up its own proposal, The Los Angeles Times reports. White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday the plan was merely a back-up, so the administration could be prepared if negotiations on Capitol Hill fell through. Read more

JOHANNS WON’T RUN IN 2014; NEB. GOV IS FRONTRUNNER. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., a first-term senator and former agriculture secretary, will not run for re-election, the senator announced in an email to supporters Monday. The leading candidate to succeed him is Republican Gov. Dave Heineman, according to a senior Republican operative. Heineman, who has served two full terms since 2005 as Nebraska's governor, is term-limited from running again in 2014. Still, he could face a primary challenge from the right. The open seat is not considered a pick up opportunity for Democrats. Read more

MCCAIN, GRAHAM WILL STOP BLOCKING HAGEL CONFIRMATION. Two major opponents to Chuck Hagel’s appointment as Defense secretary will no longer block his Senate confirmation, The New York Times reports. On Sunday Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona both said they would no longer stand in the way. Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press, McCain said that while he still does not find Hagel qualified to run the Pentagon, it was time to stop holding up a vote on Hagel’s confirmation. Sunday, Politico took a look at why McCain decided to delay Hagel, despite repeated insistence he would not. Read more

HILL STAFFERS GET JUNKETS PAID WITH FOREIGN CASH. Hundreds of Hill staffers have gotten overseas trips paid—in whole or in part—with cash from their host countries, including luxury accommodations and tours to famous destinations, The Washington Post reported. The biggest sponsor of such trips—by far—is China. Though such travel had seemingly been banned by Congress five years ago, there is a loophole: trips that are considered “cultural” in nature. In all The Post found that 803 such trips had been taken in the six years ending in 2011. Twenty-one lawmakers had trips paid for in 2011. Read more 

 RUBIO TURNS HIS THIRST INTO MONEY. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is getting more than late-night show attention from his water bottle grab in the GOP’s State of the Union rebuttal. He’s getting money. His Reclaim America PAC raised more than $100,000 from a “Get Your Marco Water Bottle Today” promotion, according to Politico. Since last Wednesday at 8 p.m., when the first email went out about the promotion, the PAC has sold more than 4,000 water bottles. The website reads, “Send the liberal detractors a message that not only does Marco Rubio inspire you … he hydrates you too.” Read more


PARTISAN INVESTIGATORS STARTED DIG INTO MENENDEZ. AsSen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., has faced a multitude of accusations in recent weeks, The New York Times reports that much of the push behind these scandals has come from “a small team of veteran Republican investigators, operating almost as a private detective squad.” They’re paid by prominent Republicans across the country and have been working since late last year to bring down Menendez. “We’ve never sent a Democrat to jail,” said Ken Boehm, the chairman of the group, the National Legal and Policy Center. To Menendez and his staff, it’s evidence that the allegations against him are a political smear. But the investigation has caused Menendez to admit to wrongdoing. Read more

BAN ON HIGH-CAPACITY MAGAZINES INCREASINGLY POSSIBLE. Lawmakers are warming to the idea of a ban on high-capacity magazines, like the 15- and 30-round devices used in the mass shootings of Newton, Conn., Aurora, Colo., and Tucson, Ariz. While the concept of a complete ban on assault weapons remains politically untenable, lawmakers are coming around to the idea that limits on the two devices are distinctly different. “I see them as separate,” Sen. Angus King Jr., I-Maine, told The New York Times. “It’s the difference between appearance and functionality.” But some still remain hesitant, particularly Senate Democrats up for re-election in states that support gun rights. “I’m ready to step off the status quo on guns,” said Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va. “But I’ve got to work this one through in my mind.” Read more

BLACK CAUCUS MAY EXERT MORE INFLUENCE. As Democrats prepare to flex what may be reinvigorated muscle this congressional session, the Congressional Black Caucus could be positioned to gain increased attention. Passage of any significant legislation in the House may need as much support from Democrats—120 votes or so—as it does from Republicans. The CBC—a bloc of 42 votes with a decidedly liberal bent—is a group that the president and congressional leaders cannot afford to ignore. “This is a very relevant caucus,” said Norm Ornstein, a congressional expert at the American Enterprise Institute. Read more

HOTSEATS: FIVE HILL POSITIONS TO WATCH ON SENATE BANKING. The ascendance of Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho to the top of the Senate Banking Committee’s Republican roster has led to a new crop of staff that is shifting the tone and style of the panel’s management. On the majority side, Chairman Tim Johnson, D-S.D., remains in place but with a new staff director and a set of senior managers who have been promoted. Read more 

HOUSE BILL WOULD FUND COPS IN SCHOOLS. Freshman Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., and six other Republicans have introduced a bill that would spend $30 million in grants to get police officers in schools, The Hill reports, part of a response to the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. The Protect America's Schools Act would fund the Cops in Schools program, which has not been funded since 2005. "According to a recent Gallup poll, 53 percent of Americans believe that increasing police presence at schools would be very effective in preventing future tragedies," Meadows said last week, according to The Hill. "After speaking to local law enforcement, superintendents and principals in my district, I believe this is the best path forward." Read more

BOTH SIDES SPEND BIG ON IMMIGRATION. Cash is flowing into the campaign for an immigration overhaul from both parties, Roll Call reports. A new GOP super PAC, Republicans for Immigration Reform, is attracting support from new donors who aren't traditionally Republican, according to a co-founder. Those in the agriculture, high-tech, and hospitality industries are all jumping into the fray. At the same time, groups of Latino Democrats are creating new organizations that aim to support Hispanic interests. After the 2012 election, the groups are working to mobilize Latinos not just for political support but for financial support, too. Read more

ROCKEFELLER LEADING ON CYBERSECURITY BILL. A week after President Obama unveiled an executive order aimed at protecting the country from cyberattacks, attention is turning to Congress, where Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., is taking the lead on crafting broad legislation to fight cybercrimes and combat threats to critical infrastructure such as power grids and water supplies. Read more


OBAMA HITS THE LINKS WITH TIGER WOODS. The president spent his President's Day weekend on a boys' trip to Florida, where he played golf with the sport's famous Tiger Woods, as well as U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk and Jim Crane, the owner of the golf resort where the men stayed. The trip showed a new side of Obama, according to The New York Times. "It is hard to imagine that a year ago Mr. Obama would have spent a three-day weekend at an exclusive resort with an all-male group, especially given recurring complaints of too few women in his innermost circle. (His wife and daughters were away skiing—not a sport favored by the Hawaii-born president.) And his retreat is effectively off-limits to ordinary Americans in the middle class or aspiring to be," the paper wrote. Read more

McDONOUGH: NOMINATION DELAYS ARE 'GRAVE CONCERN.' White House chief of staff Denis McDonough said Sunday on ABC's This Week that Republican delaying tactics for key cabinet nominations could put national security at risk, the Associated Press reports. Senate Republicans have stalled the confirmation process for Chuck Hagel, nominated to head the Pentagon, and John Brennan, nominated as CIA Director. Votes are not expected on either nominee until late this month at the earliest, after the Senate returns from a 10-day recess. Read more

ISRAEL TO AWARD OBAMA PRESIDENTIAL MEDAL. Israel will recognize President Barack Obama with the country's Presidential Medal of Distinction during his March visit, the Associated Press reports. Israeli President Shimon Peres’ office said he will be honored for his “unique and significant contribution to strengthening the State of Israel and the security of its citizens.” Obama's relationship with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has often been contentious, but Peres emphasized Obama's overall friendship with the country. Read more

MICHELLE OBAMA: MIDLIFE CRISIS INSPIRED BANGS. First Lady Michelle Obama's new bangs inspired a flurry of discussion when she unveiled them last month on her 49th birthday, and she's ready to explain them, joking in an interview with Rachael Ray scheduled to air Wednesday that it was a midlife crisis that inspired the haircut, the Associated Press reports. The First Lady said she cut her bangs because she can't get a sports car and won't be allowed to bungee jump. Read more


HOUSE DEMS PUSH BILL TO ESTABLISH DIPLOMATIC ENVOY WITH IRAN. House Democrats are attempting to open a sustained channel with Iran through a diplomatic envoy aimed at convincing the country to abandon its nuclear ambitions, The Hill reports. Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who sponsored the bill, said the government’s “no contact” policy with Iran hamstrings serious diplomatic attempts to curb the country’s nuclear program. Read more

AFGHANISTAN CURBS FOREIGN AIRSTRIKES CALLED IN BY AFGHAN FORCES. Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued a decree on Saturday that “would ban Afghan forces from calling in airstrikes from their international counterparts in residential areas,” reports The Wall Street Journal. U.S. Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, who commands coalition forces in Afghanistan, said on Sunday that he would comply with the decree. The ban comes on the heels of a Tuesday airstrike on Taliban fighters called in by Afghan forces that killed at least 10 civilians, mostly women and children, according to Afghan officials. Read more 

CHAVEZ MAKES UNEXPECTED RETURN TO VENEZUELA. Venezuela President Hugo Chávez—who has been virtually unheard from since leaving his country Dec. 10 for emergency cancer surgery—made a surprise return Monday. Chávez was re-elected on Oct. 7, but two months later announced his dormant cancer had returned and he would need to seek treatment in Cuba. In the 10 weeks since, Chávez missed the start of his new term and Venezuela has descended into uncertainty over its leadership. A group of government ministers has run the country in his absence and no specific information has been released about Chávez’s health. Growing protest movements have called the whole arrangement unconstitutional and demanded more information. Despite his return, Chávez’s condition remains unclear. According to The New York Times, Chávez’s “long-dormant” Twitter feed said he would continue treatment in his home country. Read more

AS U.N. POINTS TO INCREASING SYRIAN VIOLENCE, E.U. DECLINES TO ARM REBELS. Following the Obama administration’s repeated refusal to arm Syrian rebels, the European Union also decided against providing weapons to Syrian opposition forces. E.U. foreign ministers meeting in Brussels “expressed fears that more arms would only lead to more bloodshed” and could potentially end up in the hands of Islamist extremists, according to The Washington Post. Britain has pushed for more direct military aid to rebel groups in the conflict that has taken nearly 70,000 lives. Monday, Carla del Ponte, a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council commission investigating Syria, said the violence was escalating and that Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court in The Hague to “prosecute those responsible for war crimes.” The panel released a 131-page report detailing evidence of war crimes in the past six months. Read more


A POTENTIAL TEA PARTY CHALLENGE FOR McCONNELL. Kentucky businessman Matt Bevin is gauging support from local tea party groups as he contemplates a 2014 Senate run against Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, The Hill reports. "We met with him to just discuss our feelings about the Senator, our feelings about someone running against him, what the challenges would be, the risks involved," said Sarah Duran, president of the Louisville Tea Party. Other tea party groups also reached out to Bevin to encourage him to run, according to Duran, including some who had supported McConnell in the past. McConnell, who is one of the least popular senators in the country, could face an uphill battle in his race for reelection, even in red Kentucky. Read more

JACKSON CHARGES END THOUGHTS OF POLITICAL DYNASTY. Jesse Jackson Sr. and Jesse Jackson Jr., household names in Chicago and among political observers of a certain age, were building an African-American political dynasty with the White House in its sights. So much for that, writes National Journal’s Jill Lawrence. Jackson Jr., 47, was charged Friday with illegally spending some $750,000 in campaign funds "for his own personal benefit" on furs, watches, home renovations and other luxury items. His wife, former Chicago alderman Sandi Jackson, who received campaign checks for consulting, was charged with filing false tax returns. Lawyers for the couple said both of them planned to plead guilty. Read more 

NEW HAMPSHIRE GOP LOOKS TO FORMER SEN. JOHN SUNUNU. New Hampshire could be home to a rare political rubber match in 2014. Ask Granite State GOP insiders about potential opponents for Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, and one name always tops the wishlist: former Sen. John Sununu. Shaheen defeated the Republican by 6 points with President Obama atop the ballot in 2008. Six years earlier, Sununu beat then-Gov. Shaheen by a similar margin. While the former senator has remained publicly silent about a potential third tilt with Shaheen, the New Hampshire Union Leader reported last month that he "has made it known privately" that he's considering a run. State Republicans are hopeful he will attempt the comeback bid, saying he represents the party's best chance of taking down a fairly well-positioned incumbent.

MARK SANFORD RELEASES FIRST CAMPAIGN AD, ADDRESSES SCANDAL. Former Republican South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford released his first ad since announcing his intention to run for South Carolina’s 1st congressional district a month ago, The Hill reports. The seat was vacated when Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., was appointed to replace former Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. Sanford’s political career was waylaid after he admitted to an affair with an Argentine woman in 2009, while he was still governor. The ad addressed the incident: “I’ve experienced how none of us goes through life without mistakes, but in their wake we can learn a lot about grace, a God of second chances and be the better for it. In that light I humbly step forward and ask for your help in changing Washington.” Read more


THOUSANDS MARCH IN D.C. AGAINST KEYSTONE.  About 35,000 protestors marched in Washington D.C. Sunday to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline, CBS reports. Some famous names included actresses Rosario Dawson and Evangeline Lilly, as well as hedge fund manager Tom Steyer. Meanwhile, Keystone boosters got some help from the editorial board at USA Today, which on Monday urged the construction of the pipeline. Read more

HOW A TEXAS RANCHER MAY HOLD UP PIPELINE. Despite getting offered $21,000 to have a part of the Keystone XL pipeline buried on her property, Texas rancher Julia Trigg Crawford says she won’t allow the already approved southern venture go through a portion of her 650 acres. Keystone is suing Crawford because it’s too late in the process to change course, but CBS News reports that Crawford is fearful of the potential environmental impacts on her property.  "I just don't believe that a Canadian organization that appears to be building a pipeline for their financial gain has more right to my land than I do," Crawford said. Read more

BP BETS TRIAL WILL BE BETTER THAN SETTLEMENT. BP is set to go to trial next week over the 2010 spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and is banking that it will fare better in court than it would through a settlement with Gulf Coast states, businesses, individuals, and the federal government over environmental-related claims, The Wall Street Journal reports. BP believes that penalties incurred under the Clean Water Act, which will determine who has culpability for the blowout and spill, will be far less than an expected $21 billion. “In a way we are looking forward to the trial,” BP’s general counsel told the Financial Times. BP has already agreed to $30 billion in fines and penalties and is trying to hold down costs. Read more

ARE WEATHER SATELLITES REALLY A ‘HIGH-RISK’ PROGRAM? The Government Accountability Office typically places Medicare and military contracting on its list of “high-risk” programs that are high-cost and hampered by ineffectiveness or inefficiency. Well, add weather satellites to that list, as The New York Times reports. The GAO report, updated every two years for the new Congress, placed weather satellites on the list for the first time last week. “These programs have troubled legacies of cost increases, missed milestones, technical problems and management challenges that have resulted in reduced functionality and slips to planned launch dates,” the GAO report says. “As a result, the continuity of satellite data is at risk.” Read more


A NEW PLAN FROM BOWLES, SIMPSON. Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, co-founders of the Campaign to Fix the Debt, will release findings that a grand bargain to solve the nation's financial woes will now cost trillions of dollars more than it would have in 2010, when their commission released its original plan. The two will speak this morning at 8:45 at a Politico Playbook Breakfast event. The reasons for the increased costs include inflation, growth, the aging population, and the increase in interest costs as debt increases.

GAMING OUT THE SEQUESTER. The Washington Post’s Jonathan Bernstein uses the 1995-96 government shutdown as a jumping off point to analyze the sequester, arguing that while Republicans will try to convince the public that the automatic cuts were all Obama’s idea, such a stance may not work in their favor. “Leaving aside the argument over what actually happened in 2011, Republicans might stand a chance to win the spin on that one. But the problem is that most voters—most consumers of government services—are going to be a lot more interested in disrupted government services than in the past. And for that, Obama can argue that he wants to restore what’s been cut; Republicans can only offer … more cuts.” Read more

NO TO THE FLAT TAX, AND OTHER STALE IDEAS. Writing in National Review, James Pethokoukis criticizes several ideas that are popular on the right, including the flat tax, the gold standard and the balanced budget amendment. On the latter he writes: “Senate Republicans have submitted legislation for a BBA that would limit government spending to 18 percent of GDP. Putting aside the debate over the wisdom of tying the hands of future Congresses in unforeseen economic circumstances, 18 percent of GDP is too low a long-term spending target given the aging of the U.S. population. Over the next 25 years, 60 percent of the rise of health-related entitlement spending will come from aging, and only 40 percent from inflation in that economic sector.” Read more

CHANGE OF HEART ON PAY FREEZE? The recent vote in the House on a pay freeze for federal workers indicates a change of heart, according to Roll Call. Last year, a bill with almost the exact wording as this year’s passed 309-117. This year’s version only won by a 261-154 margin. The reason? Many Democrats didn’t want to come out in favor of a bill that would be seen as giving themselves a pay raise. In all, 29 fewer Democrats voted for the pay freeze and 10 Republicans switched their vote. The reasons for Republicans varied: some said they felt they had already been on record as opposing pay hikes, others cited national security. Read more


THE FEDS WILL RUN THE MAJORITY OF EXCHANGES. Friday was the last day for states to tell the federal government whether they wanted to play some role in running the health insurance exchanges that will be mandatory under the Affordable Care Act, and after months of waiting for states to make their decisions, the tallies are complete, The Washington Post reports. The federal government will run exchanges in 26 states, including Florida and New Jersey, which were last-minute deciders. Seven states want to partner with the federal government, and 17 states and the District of Columbia are planning to run their own exchanges. The breakdown is decidedly partisanmost Republican-led states will let the federal government run the exchange, and most Democratic-led states will run their own. Those bucking the trend? The Democratic governors of Missouri and Montana, who will let the feds take charge, and the Republican governors of Nevada, Idaho, New Mexico and Utah, who have said they will run their own. Read more

PREMIUMS COULD JUMP UNDER ACA, DESPITE PROMISES OTHERWISE. Many of the Affordable Care Act's supporters are now worried health insurance premiums could spike when the law goes into full effect in 2014, The Los Angeles Times reports. Administration officials are still doing their best to quell fears the law could raise costs, but because of requirements in the law that try to decrease costs for older, sicker consumers, and others that raise the floor for minimum benefit packages, healthier Americans might see more expensive premiums than most expected. "The single biggest issue we face now is affordability," Jill Zorn, senior program officer at the Universal Health Care Foundation of Connecticut, told The L.A. Times. Read more

COMPETITIVE BIDDING COMES WITH PERILS. The expansion of Medicare's competitive bidding program—which the government has heralded for dramatically cutting costs—could squeeze businesses that make wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, and diabetes testing strips out of business, ThePlain Dealer reports. When the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid opened up nine cities to competitive bidding on so-called "durable medical equipment," Medicare saved $202 million, and prices on such equipment fell by an average of 35 percent. But as those prices fall, some manufacturers may have to shut their doors, which could leave consumers with fewer choices or places to purchase medical supplies. Congress's decision to move diabetic testing supplies into the program as part of the fiscal cliff legislative package is raising particular concerns. "We're frightened for our patients at this point," said Martha Rinker, chief advocacy officer for the American Association of Diabetic Educators, whose members work with patients to keep their disease under control. Read more

HIGH RISK FOR SMALL-GROUP MARKETS IF COMPANIES INSURE OWN EMPLOYEES. As implementing the health insurance exchanges gets into full swing, some in the industry have concerns that companies with young, healthy employees may decide to insure their own employees rather than signing up with commercial insurers, a choice that could have significant effects on existing small-group insurance markets, The New York Times reports. Paying for employee health claims on a case-by-case basis is encouraged by the Affordable Care Act, but that practice is much more financially viable for companies with younger, healthier employees. And as more firms choose to self-insure, some experts and officials worry costs could go up for firms that stick with commercial insurers. Read more

(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. A brooding Gerald Ford on the football field; a besuited, stoic John Tyler; Ronald Reagan in a skin-tight lifeguard outfit. Check out this gallery of presidents in their prime and answer BuzzFeed’s simple question. Read more)

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