White House: Votes Are There for Hagel

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WHITE HOUSE: VOTES ARE THERE FOR HAGEL. The White House thinks it has the Senate votes to put Chuck Hagel in the top job at the Pentagon, but it concedes it may be a narrowly-won victory, National Journal’s Jim O’Sullivan reports. After a confirmation hearing last week that did little to help Hagel's candidacy, the Obama administration counts about 57 senators supporting his nomination. Several others have said they would oppose a filibuster. Hagel is continuing his Capitol Hill courtesy calls this week, scheduled to meet with roughly 20 senators, which would push his total to about 72, a senior administration official said. Read more

BRENNAN HEARING WILL LET SENATORS ASK TOUGH QUESTIONS. Senators will have a chance to examine the use of drones and targeted terrorist killings at Thursday’s confirmation hearing for John Brennan, who is nominated to become director of the CIA, Bloomberg reports. Questioning Brennan, Obama’s former counterterrorism advisor, will give lawmakers a chance to speak out on the drone program and, more specifically, on the Justice Department’s white paper on targeting suspected terrorists abroad that was leaked on Monday. “Signals from senior lawmakers that they may seek to delay, if not derail, Brennan’s confirmation made it clear that Obama’s decision to nominate him has drawn the White House into a fight it had sought to avoid,” The New York Times wrote. Read more

CBO FORECAST SETS STAGE FOR STORMY SPRING. The Congressional Budget Office’s new outlook, released Tuesday afternoon, gave lawmakers, congressional staffers, and economists the first preview of the contours of this spring’s budget battles. After all, the CBO’s budget and economic predictions will form the basis of both parties’ budgetary arguments in the coming months, as the two sides try to highlight different points of data to their own political advantage. As soon as the report went live, the jockeying began. Senate Budget Committee Chairwoman Patty Murray, D-Wash., responded first by arguing that the report showed the wisdom of stabilizing the debt over the long term and undoing any immediate cuts such as the sequester. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wis., saw an entirely different lesson—a warning about the perils of the country’s long-term debt. Read more

OBAMA: SEQUESTER WILL HAVE GRAVE CONSEQUENCES. President Obama urged Congress on Tuesday to pass a short-term package of spending cuts to avert the automatic reductions known as the “sequester” that will take place in the coming weeks. He also called on Congress to close tax loopholes, saying the deals he had offered before were still "on the table" and noting that the sequester "doesn't have to happen." He continued, "There is no reason that the jobs of thousands of Americans who work in national security or education or clean energy—not to mention the growth of the entire economy—should be put in jeopardy." The proposal, however, appears to be dead on arrival in Congress, Politico reports.

PAYING BACK DONOR COST MENENDEZ DEARLY. When Robert Menendez arrived in the U.S. Senate in 2006, he ranked 97th out of 100 senators in terms of his personal wealth. So his decision last month to use his personal funds to reimburse a prominent political contributor $58,500 for two flights to the Dominican Republic came at a major cost, as National Journal’s Shane Goldmacher reports. The repayment amounts to between 32 percent and 87 percent of the assets Menendez reported holding in bank accounts and stock, according to his latest financial disclosure form, which was filed last year. Read more


CANTOR SOFTENS ON IMMIGRATION. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor used an afternoon address (full text here) at the American Enterprise Institute to drive home the message that the GOP must rebrand itself if it hopes to survive. Offering up his own idea of compassionate conservatism, Cantor seemed to offer a softer tone on immigration, and a possible path toward citizenship for children of illegal immigrants who were brought here as youngsters—the so-called Dream Act—which he had opposed in 2010, as TheHuffington Post notes. Read more

SCHUMER: REPUBLICANS SHOULD LISTEN TO CANTOR. Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., usually an aggressive partisan, offered some praise for the ideas expressed in House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s Tuesday speech at AEI. Schumer said in a statement Tuesday that he agreed with Cantor’s outline of the country’s problems and called on Republicans to develop a party platform that echoed Cantor’s ideas, The Washington Post reports. Read more

LAWMAKERS WANT TO WEAKEN POT LAWS. Reps. Jared Polis, D-Colo., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., both proposed legislation to weaken federal restrictions on marijuana, The Wall Street Journal reports. In addition to giving states more regulatory control, the bills would establish a pot excise tax and eventually move toward the legalization of marijuana at the federal level. Though legalization advocates support the proposals, opponents were critical. "If you legalize it, marijuana use will increase as will the social costs associated with it. And that will far outstrip any income we get from taxes," said Dave Evans, special adviser to the Drug Free America Foundation. Others doubted the bills would gain any traction. Read more

REPRESENTATIVE TO SPIELBERG: CLEAR MY STATE'S NAME! Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., wants Lincoln director Steven Spielberg to clear his state's name. The representative says in a letter to Spielberg that in the movie, he portrayed Connecticut on the wrong side of the debate over the 13th Amendment, which outlawed slavery. But Courtney said he checked the Congressional Record from that famous vote and "I learned that in fact, Connecticut’s entire congressional delegation … all voted to abolish slavery." Courtney did concede that for certain movies—such as Spielberg's E.T.—one must suspend disbelief. Spielberg has not yet responded. Read more

GOP PRICE FOR IMMIGRANT CITIZENSHIP BECOMING CLEARER. Everyone was listening for a hint of whether House Republicans would reject some path to citizenship for illegal immigrants at Tuesday's Judiciary Committee hearing. Chairman Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., outlined three issues that Republicans want addressed as part of immigration reform: ending so-called "chain migration," converting the United States to a merit-based immigration system and, as always, border security. Democrats could, in theory, accommodate those demands, but it won't be easy.

SENATE DEMS TALK GUNS, IMMIGRATION, 2014 AT RETREAT. A lot is on the plate for Senate Democrats at a two-day retreat that started Tuesday in Annapolis, Md., but foremost among them was the 2014 election cycle, which is shaping up as a challenge for Democrats. The talk was led by new Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chair Michael Bennet of Colorado. “It [was all about] the 2014 lineup, just going through it,” Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico told Roll Call. Other topics of discussion will include sequestration, immigration, and ways to reduce gun violence before wrapping up today. The only outside speaker will be Andrew Liveris, CEO of Dow Chemical.  Read more

BIPARTISAN HOUSE GROUP TACKLES GUNS. A group of Democrats and Republicans in the House are asking House leadership to back small-bore legislation that further penalizes those who straw-purchase guns, The Hill reports. Republicans Scott Rigell of Virginia and Pat Meehan of Pennsylvania joined Democrats Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Carolyn Maloney of New York on Tuesday to introduce the bill, which would make it a felony to buy a gun with the intent to sell it to another who is not legally allowed to make such a purchase. The bill is similar to two measures introduced recently in the Senate.  Read more


OBAMA TO VISIT ISRAEL IN MARCH. The White House said Tuesday that, for the first time as president, President Obama will visit Israel, The Washington Post reports. Israeli media said the date of the visit would be March 20, but the administration would not confirm the date. According to The Post, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said that he and Obama spoke about a visit by the president to Israel following the formation of a new Israeli government, “and the two agreed that such a visit would be an important opportunity to emphasize the friendship and strong partnership between Israel and the United States.” Read more 

PRESIDENT SPEAKS AT ANNAPOLIS RETREAT TODAY. Obama will join the Senate Democratic Caucus today at their retreat in Annapolis, Md., where Democrats are expected to discuss major policy initiatives like gun control, immigration, and sequestration. Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Barbara Mikulski of Maryland will speak to the caucus about the upcoming automatic spending cuts, just a day after President Obama's speech Tuesday on the subject, The Baltimore Sun reports. Read more

EXCUSES, EXCUSES—WHERE IS THE WHITE HOUSE BUDGET? When the White House missed its deadline to release a budget on Monday, officials did something a little unusual: They declined to say when the blueprint would be released. The failure to meet the deadline was not new. Under federal law, the president is required to release a budget for the following fiscal year sometime between the first Monday in January and the first Monday in February. For three years running, Obama hasn’t submitted the document on time. (And, for three years running, Republicans have pounced on the delay.) National Journal's Niraj Chokshi looks back at the excuses the White House has given each year. Read more

FILLING THE OBAMA CABINET. Obama has already made strides toward filling the openings in his second-term Cabinet, but with key jobs heading the Energy, Labor, and Commerce departments still unfilled, he has a lot left to do. NJ's Catherine Hollander rounds up the top names for the open slots in the administration, and wraps up the changes that have been made so far. Read more

CBC PUSHES CLYBURN FOR TRANSPORTATION. The Congressional Black Caucus is lobbying Obama to name Assistant House Democratic Leader James Clyburn, D-S.C., as his new Transportation secretary. Rep. Marcia Fudge, the Ohio Democrat who chairs the caucus, sent a letter on behalf of the caucus to recommend Clyburn, who has long worked on transportation issues. Last month, the caucus recommended Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., for Labor secretary and Melvin Watt, D-N.C., for Commerce secretary. Read more


REPORT: U.S. EXTRADITED TO COUNTRIES THAT TORTURE. A new report from the Open Society Foundation details what is known as “extraordinary rendition,” the CIA’s practice  of “taking detainees to and from U.S. custody without a legal process—think of it like an off-the-books extradition—[which] often entailed handing detainees over to countries that practiced torture,” Wired reports. The report cites 136 instances where people went through the process post-9/11, involving 54 countries, ranging from places like Iran and Syria to Western allies Germany and Italy. “The U.S. government violated domestic and international law,” chief Open Society Foundation investigator Amrit Singh writes in the report. Read more

FOR FIRST TIME IN THREE DECADES, IRANIAN LEADER VISITS EGYPT. Reflecting the improving relationship between Iran and Egypt, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Egypt on Tuesday, meeting with beleaguered Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi. No Iranian leader has visited Egypt in the three decades since the two countries ended diplomatic ties, according to The New York Times. Polls of Egyptian views on Iran show increasing support over the last year. Read more

IRAN AGREES TO NUCLEAR TALKS, SETS START DATE. Iran officially agreed to resume long-halted talks with global powers about curbing Tehran’s nuclear program. U.S. and European officials said the meetings will begin Feb. 26 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, according to The Wall Street Journal. In addition to the U.S. and Iran, the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council plus Germany will be at the table. It is expected that the U.S. will offer a package of minimal economic incentives in exchange for Tehran agreeing to ship its increasing supply of near weapons-grade nuclear fuel out of the country. If the talks go well, it could lead to one-on-one meetings. Read more

CHANGES COMING TO WHITE HOUSE NATIONAL SECURITY PERSONNEL?Foreign Policy reports that Samantha Power, President Obama’s top staffer on preventing genocide and mass atrocities, is set to leave her role at the end of this month. She was influential in the decision to intervene militarily in Libya in 2011. According to a National Security Staff spokesman, Power will return to the administration at an undefined point in the future. Power has also been floated as a replacement for Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, if and when Rice leaves her job. The publication also reports that a growing number of lawmakers are pushing nascent Secretary of State John Kerry to pressure the president to appoint an inspector general to both the State Department and USAID, which have both lacked a person in that role for more than five years. Read more

SAME-SEX MILITARY COUPLES TO RECEIVE ADDED BENEFITS. Same-sex spouses of military personnel will soon receive benefits more commensurate with opposite-sex spouses, The Washington Post reports. The Pentagon will announce its decision later this week. Officials have not specified which new benefits same-sex couples would receive, because they still must decide which added benefits will not violate the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 law barring the federal government from legally recognizing same-sex marriages. According to legal experts, more than 100 benefits could be withheld as a result of the law, even though the Obama administration has long since stopped defending it in court. Potential added benefits might include housing privileges, access to base recreational facilities, and joint duty assignments. Read more


CHANELLING REAGAN AND CLINTON, CANTOR USES PROPS FOR POLITICS. Borrowing a tactic popular with Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor referenced the stories of no fewer than nine “real people” in his speech to a conservative think tank Tuesday, most of them seated at the front of his well-heeled audience. Left unsaid, writes NJ’s Ron Fournier, was the political imperative: Cantor and other GOP leaders are desperate to polish the party’s image after being humbled in last fall’s elections. His response is to repackage GOP policies under the umbrella of “making life work better” for American families. For Cantor, that will mean redirecting federal money to private schools, granting more visas to foreign students, and eliminating the medical-device tax. Read more

MASS. REPUBLICAN ‘99 PERCENT’ SURE HE’LL RUN FOR SENATE. Massachusetts state Rep. Dan Winslow, a Republican, said on Tuesday he was “99 percent” sure he would seek the Senate seat being vacated by Secretary of State John Kerry, The Boston Globe reported. Winslow, who served as chief legal adviser to former Gov. Mitt Romney, also formed an exploratory committee on Tuesday. The move comes after several high-profile Republicans, including former Sen. Scott Brown, former Gov. Bill Weld, former Lt. Gov. Kerry Healey, and Mitt Romney’s eldest son, Tagg, said they would not run in the upcoming special election. Gabriel Gomez, a former Navy SEAL, is also reportedly exploring a run. Read more

ROVE’S NYT STORY PROVOKES TEA-PARTY BACKLASH. By laying out plans to protect Senate Republicans and other seasoned candidates from tea-party insurgents on the front page of Sunday’s New York Times, the American Crossroads super PAC effectively alerted the donor class to its new venture, called the Conservative Victory Project. But by broadcasting its message in TheTimes, the super PAC has antagonized the conservative grassroots it is hoping to tame. The backlash on Monday was swift. FreedomWorks President Matt Kibbe called the super PAC’s plans “Orwellian.” ForAmerica Chairman L. Brent Bozell III declared, “The days of conservatives listening to the moderate GOP establishment are over.” The Tea Party Express called it “a big mistake that will lead to neither conservatives, nor victories.” Read more

GOP’S PROBLEMS ABOUT PERSONALITY, NOT IDEOLOGY. As Republicans squabble over whether to bet on ideologically pure or more-electable Senate candidates, it’s worth remembering how big a role style and temperament play in whether candidates win elections, writes National Journal’s Michael Catalini. The losing GOP candidates whose names repeatedly come up as conservative flops had one thing in common: a confrontational, almost incendiary, style that turned off voters—Democrats, independents, and Republicans alike. The biggest lesson the GOP is trying to relearn is not that conservative candidates cannot win statewide elections, but that conservative candidates whose style is marked by incendiary language will struggle. Read more

GRAHAM COULD FACE CONSERVATIVE CHALLENGER AFTER ALL. It looked last week as if Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., might avoid a primary in 2014, after one of the only remaining potential challengers, state Sen. Tom Davis, decided to take a pass on the Senate race. But on Monday, state Sen. Lee Bright, a fiscal conservative who was recently supported for reelection by former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, announced that he is seriously looking at the race. Bright told Hotline that while Graham did "a wonderful job" during his first six years in Congress, the Republican has moderated his views since he moved to the Senate. "I just don't feel like he represents the interests of South Carolina," Bright said, citing Graham's position on immigration and climate change. Read more


WAXMAN TO PUT GOP ON THE RECORD ON CLIMATE. Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., a leading climate advocate, plans to propose today that the House Energy and Commerce Committee hold hearings on climate change, a move that would force the committee’s Republicans to cast a vote on whether or not to ignore the issue. The committee will have votes this Wednesday and Waxman will join Rep. Bobby Rush, D-Ill., in proposing amendments. “We may be defeated, but to vote against even having hearings?” he told The Washington Post. “Imagine having that on your record.” Read more

OFFSHORE ENERGY BREAKTHROUGH NEAR. In a season of political gridlock, a breakthrough could be near on legislation to promote energy production off the nation’s coastlines. A bipartisan energy bill now being crafted in the Senate could hit a sweet spot between expanding offshore oil and gas drilling, which many Republicans want, and creating incentives for new offshore wind and tidal power, which many Democrats want. It could also create a new source of revenue for the nation’s 24 coastal states—a tempting prospect for many cash-strapped state governments. The bill is being written by Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Democratic Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana and Ron Wyden of Oregon, the new chairman of the Senate Energy panel. Read more

REPUBLICAN REP. PROMISES FIGHT ON EPA REGULATIONS. Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., who chairs the House Energy and Power Subcommittee, vowed on Tuesday to fight any efforts by the Environmental Protection Agency to roll out tougher admissions standards for existing power plants, The Hill reported. “They’re going to have a real battle,” he said following a speech to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners. He said his subcommittee would hold hearings on the costs of such rules and said that legislation to block the rules or curb EPA’s authority remained on the table, The Hill reported. Read more


OBAMA PROBABLY CAN’T HAVE IT ALL IN SEQUESTER DEBATE. President Obama said on Tuesday he wants Congress to find another way to cut spending, arguing that the across-the-board cuts known as the sequester would jeopardize job growth. He's betting that the combination of his bully pulpit and the continued unpopularity of the Republican brand will allow him to score political points and forestall the cuts he's long sought to avoid. But there's plenty of reason to be skeptical that he'll get everything he wants, given the political realities of the sequester debate. Read more

CBO: BUDGET DEFICIT WILL SHRINK TO SMALLEST SINCE 2008. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office released its annual budget and economic outlook through 2023 on Tuesday, showing that budget deficits will shrink to $845 billion this year, the smallest since 2008. CBO also estimates that the unemployment rate will remain high in 2014 (about 7.5 percent), but could decline in 2017 to 5.5 percent. Federal revenues should go up 25 percent from 2013 to 2015, thanks to the improving economy and the fiscal-cliff deal, and health care spending in the short-term is growing more slowly than predicted. All of this is good news for the economy, but health care costs will start to climb again at the end of the decade. By 2023, federal debt held by the public will hit 77 percent of gross domestic product, a worrisome level that could lead to higher interest payments for the government and less flexibility to respond to any potential fiscal crises. Read more

THREE MAJOR PREDICTIONS FROM CBO REPORT. The American economy is about halfway through a lost decade of economic potential, according to CBO's latest projections. The nation's economic output won't reach its potential until 2017, nearly a decade after the recession started in December 2007, according to the 10-year outlook CBO released on Tuesday afternoon. National Journal’s Niraj Chokshi breaks down predictions from the report, including a brief slowdown, then a growth spurt, a dip in unemployment, and a continuing rise in debt levels. Read more

IS U.S. SUIT AGAINST S&P PAYBACK FOR CREDIT DOWNGRADE? The Justice Department’s lawsuit against the Standard & Poor’s ratings agency, announced Tuesday, may be overdue, but at least it is happening, National Journal’s Michael Hirsh writes. And if DOJ sticks to its principles and demands an admission of wrongdoing from S&P in the end—which is likely to be a big sticking point—that will be a real achievement. Still, Hirsh detects a little payback for S&P’s decision in August 2011 to downgrade the U.S. government for the first time to an AA+ rating from AAA.   Read more


CBO BEARISH ON OBAMACARE IMPLEMENTATION. Despite optimistic pronouncements from the Obama administration, the Congressional Budget Office does not think key pieces of the president’s health reform law are going to roll out on time. In its latest update to its budgetary outlook, the nonpartisan agency downgraded its estimates of the number of people who would be covered through new state-based health insurance marketplaces and state Medicaid programs in 2014, citing “readiness of exchanges” and the “ability of state Medicaid programs to absorb new beneficiaries.” CBO also estimated that more employers would stop offering health coverage to their workers. Read more

PENNSYLVANIA GOV WON'T EXPAND MEDICAID. Pennsylvania's Republican Gov. Tom Corbett hasn't warmed to the Medicaid expansion the way some of his Republican colleagues have, The Patriot-News reports. Though his administration is consulting with federal officials about the Medicaid reforms, the annual budget put forth for fiscal 2013 does not include the expansion. Corbett, however, is still considering the optional expansion, a provision of the Affordable Care Act that provides funding to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured citizens. For a closer look at the health care industry and economy in Pittsburgh, check out last week’s NationalJournal cover story from Margot Sanger-Katz. Read more

UTAH PULLS BACK FROM ALL-IN-ONE HEALTH EXCHANGE. Unable to win legislative support for a state-run health insurance exchange, Utah Republican Gov. Gary Herbert is now retreating from the plan he pitched to Health and Human Services, and which they conditionally approved last year, The Salt Lake Tribune reports. Now Utah wants to keep the fledgling online marketplace it already developed as a shop exchange for small business, and allow the federal government to run the exchange that must go operational this October. Under Herbert’s new plan, the existing exchange will allow employees to shop for coverage, but won’t direct people to public aid or enforce the requirement that people buy insurance, as an exchange must do under the Affordable Care Act. A separate federal exchange would serve those purposes in the state. Read more

(YOU DON’T NEED TO KNOW. You might not think about Charlottesville, Va., when you think about drone surveillance, but it just became the first U.S. city to formally pass an anti-drone resolution. Brought to the city council by a local civil liberties group, the resolution forbids the city from gathering any information with “city-owned, leased, or borrowed drones.” It also encourages the state and Congress to pass similar legislation. Read more)

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