One Lawmakers Lumps of Coal is Another's X-Mas Treat

PHOTO: Consumer are more confident this holiday season despite looming fiscal cliff worries.
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THE NOTE

With just 11 days left until Christmas, a number of politicians have already gotten a sneak peek at the presents awaiting them under the tree.

But, while they are wrapped in pretty bows today, these gifts may not look quite as shiny once the glow of the season is over.

Read the full Note, ABC's Morning tip sheet.

Nikki Haley: Once consider a rising star for the GOP, the young and telegenic SC Governor's political future no longer looks all that bright. A computer hacking scandal of the state's tax files is the latest stumble in a shaky first term. Jim DeMint's resignation gives Haley a chance to try and regain that glow. Choose Rep. Tim Scott as the replacement and she wins approval not only of GOPers, but she also gets enshrined in history for putting the first southern African-American Republican in the Senate since reconstruction. Pick Jenny Sanford and she puts a well-respected Republican female - and an "outsider" into the Senate club.
The risk in an unconventional pick like Sanford: Haley looks even weaker if her hand-picked successor loses a primary challenge in 2014.

Lindsey Graham: The SC senator is doing all he can to discourage a serious primary challenge in '14. But, will his role in the take down of Susan Rice be enough to appease his detractors? Remember, there are plenty of other pitfalls ahead for Graham - especially on immigration reform legislation that could re-ignite conservative anger.

Scott Brown: A John Kerry appointment to Sec of State gives the ex-GOP Senator a chance to get his seat back. Despite his 7 point loss to Elizabeth Warren, Brown remains well-liked in the Bay State. In fact, exit polls showed that Brown had a higher favorable rating and lower unfavorable rating than Warren (60/38 to 56/43) on Election Day.

That said, winning a senate race in Massachusetts as a Republican is still one of the most difficult things to do in politics. And Democrats are committed to not making the same mistake twice.

ABC's Jon Karl reports that Dem Gov Deval Patrick has already reached out to Vicki Kennedy, who has not said yes - but hasn't said no either.

EYE ON 2016? BOBBY JINDAL PENS OP-ED, CALLING FOR "THE END OF BIRTH CONTROL POLITICS." "The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists announced its support last month for selling oral contraceptives over the counter without a prescription in the United States," Jindal writes in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. "I agree with this opinion, which if embraced by the federal government would take contraception out of the political arena." http://bit.ly/UFJYqX

NOTE IT!

ABC'S JONATHAN KARL: The President has not made a choice on his next nominee for Secretary of State yet, but Governor Deval Patrick is already making plans to fill presumptive SecState nominee John Kerry's Senate seat. Knowledgeable sources tell me Governor Patrick has already had a discussion with one potential replacement for Senator Kerry: Vicki Kennedy. The sources say the governor talked to Kennedy, the widow of Senator Ted Kennedy, about the possibility of replacing Kerry in the Senate and that she did not rule it out. But don't count on seeing another Senator Kennedy from Massachusetts any time soon: a source close to Vicki Kennedy says she would be unlikely to accept the appointment. But again, she has not ruled it out. If Kerry is nominated and confirmed as Secretary of State, Governor Patrick would appoint somebody to replace Kerry and, under Massachusetts law, a special election would be held no later than 160 days (and no earlier than 145 days) after Kerry leaves the Senate.

ABC'S RICK KLEIN: After the soul-searching will come the policy-finding. Gov. Bobby Jindal's play is that the Republican Party is ready for both, and fast. His latest proposal, a make-you-think op-ed where he argues in favor of over-the-counter birth control, reads like a challenge to the social-conservative base, until you realize it actually isn't. He's charting not a centrist course but a mature course for Republicans, to shift to fit the nation's changes rather than wish them away.

THE BUZZ:

SUSAN RICE: WHY I WITHDREW. "On Thursday I asked that President Obama no longer consider me for the job of secretary of state. I made this decision because it is the right step for this country I love. I have never shied away from a fight for a cause I believe in. But, as it became clear that my potential nomination would spark an enduring partisan battle, I concluded that it would be wrong to allow this debate to continue distracting from urgent national priorities - creating jobs, growing our economy, addressing our deficit, reforming our immigration system and protecting our national security. These are the issues that deserve our focus, not a controversy about me." http://wapo.st/QXDTb2

NOTED: WHY RICE MADE A CONTROVERSIAL CANDIDATE. Rice, who withdrew her name Thursday, has faced months of criticism over how she characterized the Sept. 11 attack on a U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, reports ABC's Dana Hughes and Sarah Parnass. She also has come under fire for her approach to dealing with African strongmen. Over the last few weeks, criticism of Rice had grown beyond her response to Benghazi to include a closer scrutiny of her work in Africa, where she had influence over U.S. policy during the Clinton administration. Critics of her Africa dealings were not partisan - but included human rights workers, journalists and some Africans themselves. http://abcn.ws/Wb3HQc

GEORGE'S BOTTOM LINE: SUPREME COURT SAYS 'I DO' TO GAY MARRIAGE CASE. The Supreme Court's decision last week to weigh in on the gay marriage debate presents the justices with several options. And ABC's George Stephanopoulos got a lot of questions about it this week, which he addressed in his ABC/Yahoo! Power Players series "George's Bottom Line." Daniel Van Winkle asked via Twitter: "If the court rules in favor of gay marriage, what does that mean for states that have amended constitutions banning it?" And Larry Lozan wrote us via Facebook to ask: "Assuming DOMA [Defense of Marriage Act] is struck down can a married couple legally wed in one state be entitled to all federal benefits and rights afforded to any couple regardless of the state they legally reside in?" Checkout George's answers: http://yhoo.it/TY7dPr

TOP LINE: SENS. STEPHEN COLBERT AND ASHLEY JUDD? The speculation for the 2014 elections has already begun, and some of the Senate names being discussed you would expect to see on the silver screen rather than a ballot. Can you imagine a Sen. Ashley Judd? How about Sen. Stephen Colbert? That's the question tackled by ABC's Amy Walter and Rick Klein in this week's episode of the ABC/Yahoo! Power Players series "Top Line." http://yhoo.it/W4EIln

OBAMACARE EXCHANGE DEADLINE LOOMS. ABC's Shush Walshe reports, all of the Affordable Care Act, also known as "Obamacare," doesn't go into effect until 2014, but states are required to set up their own health care exchanges or leave it to the federal government to step in by next year. The deadline for the governors' decisions is Friday. The health insurance exchanges are one of the key stipulations of the new health care law. They will offer consumers an Internet-based marketplace for purchasing private health insurance plans. But the president's signature health care plan has become so fraught with politics that whether governors agreed to set up the exchanges has fallen mostly along party lines.

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