By MICHAEL FALCONE and AMY WALTER
After months of will-he-or-won’t-he speculation, ABC News has learned that Newt Gingrich has decided to form a presidential exploratory committee and that he'll make it official before the end of the week, according to sources close to the former House Speaker.
ABC’s Jonathan Karl reports that Gingrich spokesman Rick Tyler would only say that the former Speaker has firmed up the timeline for an announcement on whether or not to form an exploratory committee, but close confidantes of Gingrich say he has already made up his mind. He has been hinting at a run for months. http://abcn.ws/dIqnrG
His advisors say a Gingrich campaign would tout his accomplishments as Speaker of the House from 1995 to 1999 — most importantly under his speakership the budget wasn't just balanced but generated more than $400 billion in surpluses. Advisors say this sets him apart from the field. He won't just talk about the federal debt, but can take credit as the only candidate with a record of dealing with it effectively. He also oversaw comprehensive welfare reform, tax cuts and a reduction in the growth of government spending.
“2010 was the appetizer. 2012 is the entrée,” Gingrich told an enthusiastic crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, DC earlier this month.
And just a few days ago, at a Lincoln Day dinner in Palm Beach County, Fla., Gingrich skewered the Obama administration and the entire Washington political system, saying: “The American people today are demoralized, dispirited, worried and concerned because their elites have betrayed them, their system has crippled them and their government has failed them."
Now, as Gingrich tests the waters for a presidential bid, it’s up to the politician who led the Republican Revolution of 1994 to carve out his place and his constituency within today’s Republican Party even as he carries significant baggage from his public life and private foibles.
He’s not wasting any time. On Monday, Gingrich plans to travel to Iowa to participate in a presidential candidate forum organized by the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition. There, with the keys to a presidential exploratory committee in hand, he will share the stage with three potential rivals — former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Georgia businessman Herman Cain, who has already launched his own exploratory operation.
Pawlenty and Santorum are also very likely to jump into the race for the 2012 GOP nomination — both have been ramping up their organizations in states like Iowa and New Hampshire lately. Pawlenty has also been aggressively courting Tea Party voters. He delivered a speech last weekend at a Tea Party Patriots convention and his political action committee released another one of it’s slickly-produced Web videos today, splicing together Tea Party imagery and clips of Pawlenty’s remarks. http://bit.ly/gyBkQ6
BOTTOM LINE: Why now for Newt? As the first serious candidate to dip his toe in the presidential waters, he gets a great media bump from a press corps hungry for any morsel of 2012 news. And, as an “exploratory” candidate Newt can get another bump of media if — and many say “when” — he makes his official announcement. Of course, it also comes with the attendant scrutiny.
As we've seen this week, a serious international crisis can bump his roll-out off the front pages rather easily. Moreover, aides to the other potential candidates tell us that Newt's plans will have no affect on their own timelines. Perhaps, the most important thing we'll learn from this phase is whether Newt can put together the money. Remember, his successful fundraising operation is driven by a 527 which does not have to abide by same rules as a PAC or a presidential campaign.
EXPLORATORY COMMITTEE PRIMER: A smart campaign finance attorney breaks down the legal implications for the Note: “Essentially, a presidential exploratory committee allows a potential candidate to "test the waters" — which is a legal term for deciding whether or not to become a candidate. An individual who merely conducts selected testing the waters activities (including polling) does not have to register or report as a candidate even if the individual raises or spends more than $5,000 on those activities — the dollar threshold that would normally trigger candidate registration. Ultimately, the individual must comply with the contribution limits and prohibitions.”
SHUTDOWN AVERTED? HOUSE VOTE TODAY. The House of Representatives will vote today on a GOP continuing resolution that contains $4 billion in cuts but would keep the government running until Mar. 18. The proposal is designed to be palatable to Senate Democrats with just three days left to go before the deadline for a federal government shutdown.
“It is not our intention to see the government shut down,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told reporters yesterday. “I think we have demonstrated a commitment to do everything we can to avoid that. It is up to the Senate. It is up to Harry Reid to step up and indicate that he is not willing or desirous of shutting down this government.”
NOTED: Mississippi governor and potential 2012 presidential candidate Haley Barbour will address the impact of the health care reform law at a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing this morning. According to a statement from his office, “He will explain the demands of the new law on state budgets and offer ideas to make the program more cost effective through innovative programs.”
UN AMBASSADOR ON GADHAFI: ‘FRANKLY CRAZY.’ The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos on “Good Morning America” today that the U.S. will “keep the pressure” on Col. Moammar Gadhafi, but the Obama Administration is not yet ready to outline how it’s going to step up the military pressure on his regime. “We are in discussions with our allies and NATO and elsewhere about planning for all sorts of military contingencies including a no-fly zone and should we decide that it is necessary to take the step we will proceed with the proper international steps that go with that including consultations at the United Nations,” Susan Rice said on “GMA.” More from George’s interview with Ambassador Rice: http://abcn.ws/gXF7pm In case you missed it, Jake Tapper’s “World News” report about the White House reaction to Gadhafi: http://abcn.ws/fyeQKK
ON TODAY’S “TOP LINE.” ABC’s Amy Walter and Karen Travers interview Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking member of the House Budget Committee, who has been expressing optimism that Congressional leaders would be able to avert a government shutdown. Also on the program to weigh in on the action on Capitol Hill, Roll Call reporter, David Drucker. Watch “Top Line” LIVE at 12:00 p.m. Eastern. http://bit.ly/ABCTopLine
GAO FINDS ‘DUPLICATION, OVERLAP’ AND BILLIONS WASTED. “With Congress currently embroiled in a contentious spending fight, a Congressional watchdog has found that a staggering level of duplication is plaguing the bloated federal budget — and chewing up billions of dollars in funding every year,” ABC’s Matthew Jaffe reports. “In a new report obtained by ABC News, the Government Accountability Office determined that ‘reducing or eliminating duplication, overlap, or fragmentation could potentially save billions of taxpayer dollars annually and help agencies provide more efficient and effective services.’ For instance, the GAO found, the Department of Defense could save up to $460 million every year by undertaking a ‘broader restructuring’ of its military health care system. The cost of such programs with duplicative and overlapping purposes is eye-opening. The military came in for special scrutiny: over $10 billion on defense-wide business systems every year; $49 billion in military and veterans health services; and at least $76 billion since 2005 in urgent processing systems for the military.” http://abcn.ws/hIH3iR
THE TEA PARTY SHIFT? “Two years after the first tea party rallies, leaders and activists of the small-government, grass-roots movement gathered here this weekend to ensure it remains relevant in conservative politics,” Roll Call’s Ambreen Ali reports from Phoenix, Ariz., the site of last weekend’s well-attended Tea Party Patriots conference. “The weekend conference, which emphasized strategy more than policy specifics and where cowboy hats were more prevalent than colonial tricorns, was a step away from angry protests and toward organized advocacy. … The outcome of the three-day event was identifying five focus areas for the next 40 years: education, economics, culture, the judiciary and the electoral process. However, tea party leaders did not provide any firm details on what they plan to do in each issue area. Movement leaders said their goal is to be the MoveOn.org of the 2012 elections and that principled stances on the national debt and other issues will rally the GOP base.” http://bit.ly/gIXQbg
NOTED: “The [House Tea Party Caucus] held its first meeting of the 112th Congress Monday with around 30 members in attendance, including 11 freshmen,” The Hill’s Shane D’Aprile and Russell Berman write. “Fewer than a dozen Republican freshmen have joined the House Tea Party Caucus, so far — a relatively anemic number given the size of the class and the fact that many were helped to victory in 2010 by Tea Party activists. Led by Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.), the House Tea Party Caucus held its first meeting of the 112th Congress at the Capitol late Monday with an estimated 30 members in attendance, including freshman Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.). He's one of just 11 House freshmen who have joined to this point.” http://bit.ly/gOlp23
ISSA SPOKESMAN UNDER SCRUTINY. “Rep. Darrell Issa, the Republican chairman of the powerful Oversight and Government Reform Committee, has launched an inquiry into whether spokesman Kurt Bardella improperly shared e-mails from other reporters with a New York Times reporter writing a book on Washington’s political culture,” Politico’s Jake Sherman and Marin Cogan report. “Bardella has been cooperating extensively with the Times’s Mark Leibovich on the book, and Issa told POLITICO Monday that he would ‘get to the bottom’ of exactly what Bardella shared with Leibovich. Aides close to the office say Bardella’s job hangs in the balance of the internal probe. Issa said Monday that Bardella assured him that ‘he does not share information between one reporter and another.’ But he added there are questions about whether he might have treated Leibovich and his book project differently.” http://politi.co/eMJt7H
JOHN EDWARDS: IN THE SHADOWS. “Over the past few weeks, people in this tight-knit university community have not seen much of John Edwards. They used to. He would hang out on a metal stool at Bowbarr, a short walk from the environmentally friendly condominium complex where he moved after details of an extramarital affair sent him from the family home,” The New York Times’ Kim Severson reports. “a federal grand jury in Raleigh could soon hand up an indictment against him in a case centering on campaign finance practices. One issue is whether Mr. Edwards knew that some of the millions of dollars given by at least two wealthy donors was being used to help support — and hide, some contend – Rielle Hunter, the campaign videographer with whom he had a prolonged affair, and the daughter they conceived. … Although a recent increase in testimony has fueled talk that an indictment might be coming soon, such speculation has risen and fallen during the nearly two years the grand jury has been investigating.” http://nyti.ms/dOQPdh
WHITE HOUSE WATCH: It’s a closed-door day in the West Wing. President Obama plans to meet with senior advisors in the Oval Office as well as with Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates.
@DomenicoNBC: From Pew/WaPo poll: Public split on blame for shutdown. 95 more blamed GOP. Noteworthy: Boehner fav/unfav: 28/25; Gingrich 95: 30/54
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