By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- TODAY ON THE HILL — GIFFORDS, KELLY AND LAPIERRE Former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, her astronaut husband Mark Kelly, and Wayne LaPierre, the fiery executive vice president and CEO of the National Rifle Association testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee today in the first congressional hearing on gun violence since the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. last month. ABC’s Arlette Saenz notes that Giffords, who was seriously injured in the mass shooting that killed six people in Tucson, Ariz. two years ago, and Kelly, will appear on the panel just weeks after launching Americans for Responsible Solutions, an organization promoting the implementation of universal background checks and limits on high capacity magazines. In an interview with ABC News’ Diane Sawyer earlier this month, Kelly and Giffords said they hope the Sandy Hook shooting, in which twenty children and six adults died, will spur legislative action on gun policy. “Enough,” Giffords said. http://abcn.ws/Vqn6gz
- WHAT THEY WILL SAY: “Overwhelmingly, you told us that universal background checks and limiting access to high capacity magazines were top priorities — and I’ll make sure to address each of those ideas in my opening remarks,” Kelly wrote in an email to supporters Tuesday. Kelly asked the group’s allies to sign a petition calling on Congress to pass legislation on both issues. LaPierre, who states the NRA’s opposition to universal background checks and urges legislators not to “blame” legal gun owners by enacting new gun control laws. “Law-abiding gun owners will not accept blame for the acts of violent or deranged criminals. Nor do we believe the government should dictate what we can lawfully own and use to protect our families,” LaPierre will say today, according to prepared remarks released by the NRA. http://abcn.ws/Vqn6gz
- OBAMA GETS A FAVORABILITY BOOST: Barack Obama has advanced to his highest personal popularity since his first year in office, and Americans who’ve formed an opinion of his second inaugural address last week broadly approve of it, a new ABC News-Washington Post poll finds. According to ABC Polling Analyst Greg Holyk, 60 percent of Americans now express a favorable opinion of Obama overall, up 10 points since last summer, in the heat of the presidential race. His popularity peaked at a remarkable 79 percent days before he took office four years ago, and last saw the 60s in November 2009. Obama’s approval rating for his inaugural address last week is lower – 51 percent approve in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, but just 24 percent disapprove, a 2-1 ratio in favor of the speech. A quarter of Americans have no opinion of it either way. http://abcn.ws/VvrZZa
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: As the agenda piles up, the man leading the charge is gaining momentum. President Obama’s 60 percent approval rating in the new ABC News-Washington Post poll is lower than Presidents Clinton or Reagan enjoyed at similar points in their presidencies, but is a high-water mark for Obama himself since the early, heady days of 2009. The missing piece remains, though, the president’s ability to reflect such glory – and marshal the pressure such numbers can mean — on others. Obama’s threat yesterday to send up his own immigration bill if progress in the Senate stalls only matters if the president can prove his own popularity is transferable, if Obama is feared as well as loved.
ABC’s DEVIN DWYER: “To the back of the line” is the operative phrase in the emerging bi-partisan consensus on how to legalize many of the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. On top of all other requirements, fines and fees, “going to the back of the line behind all the folks who are trying to come here legally, that’s only fair,” President Obama said Tuesday. The fairness factor could be a key to winning over moderate skeptics of a large-scale legalization bill. But immigrant advocates note the issue of “lines” isn’t so simple: “There is no ‘line’ for the majority of undocumented immigrants,” writes Prerna Lal, an undocumented Fiji-Indian immigrant and third-year law school student at George Washington University. She notes that the current visa system offers virtually no existing legal pathways to citizenship for unskilled immigrants who don’t have relatives in the U.S. Moreover, she notes, “Even if all undocumented immigrants go back to their own countries [to get in line for a visa], most of them cannot come here legally due to the ‘unlawful presence’ 3/10 year bans — enforcement solutions, which have ironically, created a substantial class of undocumented immigrants.” So far neither the Senate nor White House frameworks for immigration reform offer details on addressing this issue. But one senior administration official broadly assures that a bill would “have to make adjustments…to the country ceilings, and in the employment system, and the family-based system” to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants who, as of now, don’t fit in an existing “line.”
ABC’s CHRIS GOOD: If every unauthorized immigrant in Texas voted for Obama in 2012, he would have won the state. While that may scare people like Rush Limbaugh, who suggested to Marco Rubio yesterday that Democrats just want to legalize 11 million new voters for their team, it’s tough to say how many new voters “amnesty” would actually add in battleground states. And it could take 10 or 20 years before the numbers to change significantly, according to political operatives and one immigration specialist at the Pew Hispanic Center — meaning the GOP will have another decade to try to shake its anti-Latino stigma.
ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: I was amazed when Shane Windmeyer, the executive director of the gay rights group, Campus Pride, said he and Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy were able to forge a friendship. According to Windmeyer, after Cathy’s remarks last year about same sex marriage, he reached out to Windmeyer and began talking — eventually leading the chicken chain to stop donating to anti-gay groups. He says the two have reached an understanding. It’s a message that the United States Congress could learn from. Two people that have passionately-held beliefs on an issue are able to sit down, hash it out, and come to an understanding. In our divisive times it seems like getting both sides together in the first place is the hardest part. But maybe the bipartisan agreement on immigration that the Gang of Eight in the Senate was able reach means we are entering a new age of actually sitting down with the other side.
PREVIEW: MARTIN O’MALLEY’S STATE OF THE STATE — MARYLAND ‘MADE BETTER CHOICES’. Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, a much-talked-about potential 2016 Democratic presidential contender, will deliver his State of the State address later today at the capitol in Annapolis, Md. Here’s an excerpt of his remarks: “Our story, Maryland’s story, is the story of better choices and better results. No other state can say at once, that they are #1 in education five years in a row, #1 in holding down the cost of college tuition, #1 in innovation and entrepreneurship, #1 in human capital capacity, #1 in access to dental care for all children, regardless of income, #1 in PHD scientists and researchers, #1 in Research and Development, #1 in businesses owned by women, and #1 in median family income. … When the national recession hit — wiping out jobs and revenues all across our country — other states tried to cut their way to prosperity. Many found this only made things worse. Laying off police officers, fire fighters and teachers, cutting public education, hiking up college tuition by double digits every single year, continuing down the merry path of cutting taxes for the very wealthy, hoping against cruel experience that somehow it would trickle down to the rest of their citizens. But in Maryland, we made better choices.” Watch O’Malley’s address live at 12 p.m.: http://www.governor.maryland.gov/stateofstate2013.asp
VIDEO OF THE DAY: FORMER MARINE CORPS GENERAL SAYS WOMEN IN COMBAT LONG OVERDUE. This past week we saw an extraordinary change in the military lifting the ban on direct combat for women. Former Marine Corps General James Cartwright, a defense consultant for ABC News, lived through a similar sea change in the 1990s, when the military lifted its combat ban for female aviators. In the latest edition of the ABC-Yahoo News Power Players series, “On The Radar” with ABC’s Martha Raddatz, Cartwright recalled the first integrated deployment with female marines to Japan and the Philippines in the early 1980s. “For all of the hoopla that goes with that, quite frankly they did extremely well,” says the retired general. “If you set the conditions, if you set the moral temperature of the organization, you will do just fine.” WATCH: http://yhoo.it/XJAlXy
HILLARY CLINTON STANDS BY BENGHAZI TESTIMONY. In her final television interview as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton told ABC’s Cynthia McFadden that she is “flattered and honored” at the intense interest in whether she might run for president in 2016. But Clinton maintained that right now she’s “not focused” on a presidential campaign; instead she said she wants to return to a “normal” life when she steps down from office on Friday. Clinton’s first order of business, she said, will be sleep. “I hope I get to sleep in,” she told McFadden with a laugh. “It will be the first time in many years. I have no office to go to, no schedule to keep, no work to do. That will probably last a few days then I will be up and going with my new projects,” she said. “I have been working or attending school full-time since I was 13. This is going to be new for me. I don’t know how I’m going to react to it, to be honest.” http://abcn.ws/WNVq4Q
MORE ON CLINTON’S HEALTH: Asked about her health, Secretary Clinton said her recent illness, concussion and blood clot were all a surprise, notes ABC’s Dana Hughes. “When I got sick and fainted and hit my head I was so surprised, and I thought I would just get up and go to work. And thankfully I had very good medical care and doctors who said, ‘No we’d better do an MRI, we’d better do this, we’d better do that,’” she said, calling herself “lucky.” Though she confirmed she is wearing special glasses to help with double vision, a lingering issue following her illness, Clinton said that she expects to be fully recovered and operating at “full speed” soon. The Secretary told McFadden that if she does decide to run for president in 2016, she would have “no problem” making her health records public. “Of course, that goes with the territory,” she said. http://abcn.ws/WNVq4Q
Full Transcript: Hillary Clinton’s final television interview as Secretary of State http://abcn.ws/14tzcu7
HOUSEKEEPING: SENATE CONFIRMS JOHN KERRY. By an overwhelming vote of 94-3, the Senate confirmed Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., to be the next Secretary of State yesterday, ABC’s Sunlen Miller reports. The vote was met with a long round of applause from those in the Senate chamber for the 28-year Senate veteran. He appeared on the floor, greeted by hugs and congratulations from his fellow senators. Voting against Kerry’s nomination were Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., and Texas Republican Sens. John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. http://abcn.ws/Wt8DS7
MEET THE SENATE’S GANG OF EIGHT. The Senate’s so-called “Gang of 8″ has gained national attention in the past week by announcing sweeping plans for bipartisan immigration reform. But who can count themselves as members of Capitol Hill’s newest and most talked-about clique? ABC News’ Mary McGuire took a closer look at the Senators who make up the group: http://abcn.ws/YhHEZl
IMMIGRATION DICTIONARY: WHY ‘AMNESTY’ IS A DIRTY WORD. Two days before his bid for immigration reform died in the Senate, President George W. Bush accidentally told a group of lawmakers that his plan would grant undocumented individuals “amnesty,” notes ABC’s Sarah Parnass. Throughout the 2007 debate, those defending the immigration reform distanced themselves from the a-word while opponents used it to attack. Now as President Obama and senators on both sides of the aisle renew the discussion, amnesty is again feeling the hot glare of the spotlight. “It’s essentially the same legislation that was offered and rejected in 2007,” Ira Mehlman, of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, said about a framework proposed by four Democratic and four Republican senators Monday. “It includes amnesty for people who are here illegally.” Mehlman may consider it amnesty, but the lawmakers proposing the reforms call “a path to citizenship” for the 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. now. That path includes a fine, payment of back taxes, learning English and civics, a criminal background check and proof of employment. That’s not amnesty, according to Human Rights Watch immigration expert Antonio Ginatta. “It really has become poisoned,” Ginatta said of the a-word. “People, I guess, have taken it to mean that it’s a free pass into legal immigration status, and that’s why there’s this opposition to the word or the idea behind amnesty, but if you look at the proposals there is no quick path or path without penalty.” http://abcn.ws/WdJPhP
NOTED: TODAY AT THE WHITE HOUSE: This afternoon President Obama will participate in Spanish-language television interviews with Jose Diaz Balart of Telemundo and Maria Elena Salinas of Univision. Both have interviewed Obama previously, notes ABC’s Jon Garcia.
POLLING NOTES: MORE ON THE PRESIDENT’S POPULARITY. President Obama continues to be highly popular within his own party, with 92 percent favorability, according to the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll released today. Notably, 60 percent of independents see him favorably vs. 36 percent unfavorably, his best since his first year in office. He remains unpopular, however, with 80 percent of Republicans, reports ABC Polling analyst Greg Holyk. Similarly, 87 percent of liberals and 68 percent of moderates view the president positively, dropping to 34 percent of conservatives overall and just a quarter of strong conservatives. In other groups, Obama’s more popular among women than men by 9 points. And he’s rated favorably by 87 percent of nonwhites, two-thirds of young adults and two-thirds of those in the lower- to middle-income brackets. By contrast, his favorability drops to 45 percent among whites – a group he lost to Mitt Romney by 20 points – and 47 percent of those with household incomes more than $100,000 a year. http://abcn.ws/VvrZZa
REPORTER’S NOTEBOOK: WHAT DOES SARAH PALIN DO NOW? No matter what Palin ends up doing now that she has ended her Fox News contract, she leaves this act with a lot of money, more money than she probably could have imagined when she joined McCain’s ticket, notes ABC’s Palin watcher Shushannah Walshe. A study by SmartPolitics released Monday estimated that the former Alaska governor spoke more than 189,000 words in 150 appearances on Fox, and because of her million-dollar per year contract, it adds up to $15.85 per word. Of course, Palin does want more than just piles of money, and that’s why you won’t see her going anywhere. She wants a voice and wants to be part of the debate, especially when it comes to deciding the shape of the future Republican Party, and she’ll do that by backing House and Senate candidates. It’s something we saw in the primaries, where some of her endorsements clearly helped, although it’s hard to tell by how much. Deb Fischer pulled off a surprise win in the Nebraska GOP Senate primary, then defeated Bob Kerrey. She also backed Ted Cruz, who was victorious in Texas. It’s very clear she will get involved in the midterm elections, especially in the primaries. She told pro-Palin filmmaker Steve Bannon that a “focus on the 2014 election is also imperative. It’s going to be like 2010, but this time around we need to shake up the GOP machine that tries to orchestrate away too much of the will of constitutional conservatives who don’t give a hoot how they do it in D.C. D.C. is out of touch, obviously.” http://abcn.ws/WMVPo1
IN THE NOTE’S INBOX
–TERRY MCAULIFFE BEEFS UP STAFF. Virginia gubernatorial candidate and former Democratic National Committee Chairman Terry McAuliffe announced today that he is bringing aboard Ellen Qualls and Alan Moore are joining his campaign. Qualls will serve as senior adviser and Moore will serve as a direct mail consultant. From the press release: “Most recently, Ellen served as the Director of Surrogate Communications for the 2012 Obama Campaign and was a Senior Advisor in Speaker Pelosi’s office. … Alan Moore has worked on Virginia campaigns at the state and federal level for over a decade. In 2012, Alan was his firm’s lead for the Obama Campaign’s mail in Virginia; and he created the direct mail for Senator Tim Kaine.”
@dickstevenson: How economic, demographic and security changes make the climate for immigration reform different this time. My take. http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/01/30/immigration-shifts-could-provide-opening-for-compromise/ …