By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- HAGEL ON THE HILL: All eyes will be on the Senate Armed Services Committee today where senators will consider former Nebraska Sen. Chuck Hagel’s nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense. ABC’s Sunlen Miller notes that yesterday one Senator said damage has already been done to the nation’s credibility solely due to Hagel’s nomination and called on President Obama to choose another candidate. “The nomination of Chuck Hagel to be the next secretary of defense has already done damage to the United States’ credibility in its attempt to deny Iran a nuclear weapon,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, declared on the Senate floor, “to limit that damage, President Obama should choose someone else to lead the Pentagon.” Cornyn said Hagel’s positions on Iran, among other foreign policy issues, are soft and said the Senator has “no credibility” on American national security interests in the Middle East and around the world.
- DOES HE HAVE THE VOTES? Foreign Policy Magazine’s Josh Rogin takes a whip count: “The White House seems confident that Hagel, after gaining the public endorsements of key Democrats like Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), is on a glide path to confirmation. … Several key Democrats have announced their support and some officials argue that this foretells a confirmation victory for Hagel and President Barack Obama. … Some GOP senators have firmly stated their opposition to Hagel’s confirmation and will not back down. They include Sens. James Inhofe (R-OK), David Vitter (R-LA), Roger Wicker (R-MS),Tom Coburn (R-OK), Pat Roberts (R-KS), Dan Coats (R-IN) and John Cornyn (R-TX). … GOP senators and their aides are predicting a confrontational hearing and claim that the committee might approve Hagel on a party-line vote, with all or nearly all GOP committee members voting against him. Several other GOP senators are said to be leaning to oppose the nomination, including Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Kelly Ayotte (R-AZ), Mike Enzi (R-WY), Roy Blunt (R-MO),Mark Kirk (R-IL), and several others.” http://atfp.co/UDIcJc
- OBAMA ON IMMIGRATION REFORM — ‘SI, SE PUEDE’: President Barack Obama expressed confidence on Wednesday that he would sign comprehensive immigration reform into law by the end of this year, notes ABC News-Univision’s Jordan Fabian. In an interview with Univision’s Maria Elena Salinas, Obama explained that significant details of a bill still must be worked out by lawmakers, including the structure of a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants. But Obama said that the progress made by a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Senate has given him hope that a deal can get done. When asked by Salinas if we will have immigration reform by the end of the year, Obama said, “I believe so.” “You can tell our audience, ‘Sí, se puede?’” Salinas asked. “Sí, se puede,” Obama responded. Later in the interview, Obama said that he hopes a bill could be passed as early as this summer. http://abcn.ws/W1bGQt
ABC’s DEVIN DWYER: President Obama will on Monday make his first trip outside Washington to campaign for a sweeping new package of gun control measures. He’s heading to blue-state Minnesota, where he’ll participate in a roundtable discussion and give a speech in Minneapolis. The state has a high percentage of gun owners, especially sportsmen, but also a consensus among local law enforcement officials that stronger background checks are needed. The visit will test Obama’s ability to rally public support for two major pieces of reform legislation at the same time. On Tuesday he was in Las Vegas to kick-off a campaign for an immigration overhaul.
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: It’s easy to mock — and the speech was vintage John Kerry, in the sense that you could go for a walk and come back and it was still going on. But John Kerry’s farewell address on the floor of the Senate yesterday stood out for its rare flashes of optimism. Buoyed perhaps by the bipartisan 94 votes his nomination for Secretary of State just received, Kerry delivered an extended homage to the Senate and also to the senators, the remarkable collection of Americans that populate the upper chamber even at its most dysfunctional. Kerry has done battle with many of them, and few bare more scars from political combat. In an era of justified pessimism, Kerry’s upbeat tone was welcome, perhaps even instructive.
ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Gabby Giffords’ offered heartbreaking testimony yesterday on Capitol Hill where despite her megawatt smile conceded that “speaking is difficult, but I need to say something important.” ”Gun violence is a big problem too many people are dying,” Giffords told the Senate Judiciary Committee’s hearing on gun violence. “Too many children. We must do something. It will be hard, but the time is now! You must act! Be bold, be courageous, Americans are counting on you.” Her tenacity sounded out at times in every syllable was just awe-inspiring. It’s a message that should make everyone on both sides of the gun control debate pause, but it really sends a message to all about the relentlessness of the human spirit. Giffords is a bold, courageous, living reminder of the spirit of persistence even in the toughest of circumstances.
ABC’s Z. BYRON WOLF: It is not surprising to hear Ann Coulter dub the bipartisan immigration framework “Marco Rubio’s amnesty plan.” What’s more surprising is that more of the conservarati have not joined in. As the Gang of 8 bipartisan lawmakers huddle up on Capitol Hill to hammer out details, they’ll have to inch across a balance beam. Rubio has made declarations about the need for triggers. Obama has made declarations about the need for a clear pathway to citizenship today, not “manana.” And no one has explained exactly how this whole thing gets through the House. But for all that, the coalition of people who support reform seems committed to passing a bill. As long as those big names are working together (or at least not working against each other), don’t bet against it.
–“SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK” STAR HOSTING SCREENING AT WALTER REED. Bradley Cooper, star of “Silver Linings Playbook,” will be co-hosting a special screening of Silver Linings tonight at Walter Reed Medical Center for troops, military families, mental health experts and others. The event is sponsored by Give an Hour (www.giveanhour.org), a nonprofit organization providing free mental health services to U.S. military and their families affected by Iraq and Afghanistan. Following the screening, Cooper, Barbara Van Dahlen, the president and founder of Give an Hour, and other experts will answer questions from the audience.
–A SANTORUM ENDORSES IN SOUTH CAROLINA HOUSE RACE. But it’s not former senator and presidential candidate Rick Santorum, it’s his brother Dan. Dan Santorum endorsed Republican contender Any Patrick. ”I have seen great conservative leaders firsthand, and Andy has all the skills and talents necessary to be just that for the people of South Carolina,” Santorum said. “Andy is a hardworking, family man, full of the conviction necessary to succeed in Congress.” Patrick is running in the special election to fill former Rep. Tim Scott’s seat. He’s a second term state representative representing Hilton Head Island as well as a former Secret Service Agent. “Dan Santorum’s endorsement to my campaign means so much. He is an incredibly respected member of our Beaufort County community, and if there is anyone who knows about being a principled conservative — it’s a Santorum,” Patrick said in a statement. Dan Santorum lives in Hilton Head and is a member of the South Carolina Tennis Hall of Fame.
–EMILY’S LIST ENDORSES TWO INCUMBENT SENATORS. Today, Emily’s List, the group devoted to electing progressive women to office, announced its endorsement of Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire for re-election to the U.S. Senate. “For the past four years, Senators Hagan and Shaheen have been tireless advocates for women and families in Congress,” Stephanie Schriock, President of Emily’s List said in a statement. “Both became the first Democratic women to represent their state in the Senate with the help of the EMILY’s List Community, a group that has more than quintupled to two million members and is excited to once again support their candidacies.” An Emily’s List official tells The Note that last election cycle, the group endorsed six Democratic Senate incumbents — and “hung on to every single one of them.”
–DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE ANNOUNCES FUNDRAISING. “We start 2014 cycle better than we started 2012,” a DCCC aide tells The Note. Some figures provided by the Committee: The minority-party DCCC in the 2012 cycle outraised the majority-party DCCC from the 2010 cycle ($184 million v. $164 million) The DCCC ended the cycle with more than 3 million donations for the first time in history. The DCCC starts the 2014 cycle with 5.5 million dollars (nearly 30 percent less debt than 2012. The DCCC even starts the 2014 with more cash on hand ($700,000) than 2012 cycle.
WHAT WE’RE READING
“RUBIO MUST SELL IMMIGRATION CHANGES TO GOP, GRASS ROOTS,” by Roll Call’s David Drucker and Kyle Trygstad. “The fate of an immigration overhaul rests almost exclusively with Sen. Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican whose star power with conservatives is crucial to moving a bill through Congress. President Barack Obama retains veto power, and Democrats hold the Senate floor. But no comprehensive immigration changes are likely to pass Congress without the healthy support of House Republicans. And Florida’s junior senator, perhaps more than any other Republican serving in Washington today, has the political credibility and communication skills to sell such complicated, sensitive legislation to skeptical conservative members, grass-roots voters and influential media commentators. Rubio’s position is all the more unique because congressional Democrats and Obama need him, too, and appear to realize his importance to the legislative endgame. Republicans warn that Obama and congressional Democrats could sink Washington’s immigration policy rewrite by attaching controversial social provisions or watering down the border enforcement and security measures included in the bipartisan Senate framework that Rubio helped negotiate. The Florida lawmaker has said he’ll pull his support from any bill if that occurs, and Republicans say comprehensive policy changes will fail to garner meaningful GOP support without Rubio’s backing. ‘If Rubio signals any mistrust or misgivings, the whole thing collapses,’ GOP pollster Brock McCleary said.” http://bit.ly/14td0PO
TODAY IN WASHINGTON: President Obama is spending the day behind closed-doors at the White House with no public events on his schedule. ABC’s Mary Bruce notes that Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, will be on Capitol Hill for a Senate Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Lunch. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announced that today the Senate will vote on the House’s three-month extension of the debt limit bill with final passage likely coming sometime this afternoon.
MORE FROM PRESIDENT OBAMA’S UNIVISION INTERVIEW. In his interview with Univision’s Maria Elena Salinas yesterday, President Obama also reiterated that his path to citizenship would be earned, meaning that undocumented immigrants would have to pass a background check, pay fines and back taxes, learn English and go to the back of the line, notes ABC News-Univision’s Jordan Fabian. “That pathway will take some time. Even under our proposal, this is not a situation where overnight people are suddenly going to find themselves a citizen,” the president said. Obama also suggested that he wouldn’t accede to a demand from immigrant-rights groups that a moratorium be placed on deportations of undocumented immigrants who otherwise do not have criminal records, saying it would amount to executive overreach. “I’m not a king,” he said. But he said that passing comprehensive reform would allow him to address the record levels of deportations, which have been a grave concern to many in the Latino community. “There are still going to be stories that are heartbreaking with respect to deportations until we get comprehensive immigration reform,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons I think it’s so important for us to go ahead and get this action done.”
OBAMA’S IMMIGRATION STRATEGY — A LOT LIKE THE FISCAL CLIFF. President Obama insisted Tuesday that Congress vote on his plan as soon as possible, barring agreement on something else. ABC’s Chris Good notes that it’s the same strategy Obama used in the “fiscal-cliff” talks. With a year-end deadline approaching, he pushed Congress to vote on his own plan: to let higher income tax hikes go into effect if lawmakers couldn’t cut a deal themselves. Obama asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada to call “an up-or-down vote” on that plan, the president announced in a Dec. 28 appearance before cameras at the White House. Republicans hate such a negotiation tactic. Throughout Obama’s White House tenure, GOP aides have griped that the president and congressional Democrats have sought political gain while refusing to negotiate in good faith. On immigration, it’s the same. Obama has presented Republicans with a plan they will like much less than what’s been crafted by the bipartisan Senate group. The group plan includes triggers to enforce border-security measures, more unmanned drones and no provisions making it easier for same-sex couples seeking to immigrate or naturalize. Unless other Republicans come up with a plan of their own, the president has given Republicans a choice between the left and the middle. It’s not hard to tell which they’d prefer. http://abcn.ws/11kK9tR
NEWTOWN RESIDENTS, LAWMAKERS DISCUSS GUN CONTROL. Connecticut legislators came to Newtown, Conn. last night, the place that has ignited the nation’s debate on guns, to hear from residents there, ABC’s Josh Haskell reports. Dave Wheeler’s 6-year-old son Ben was among the 20 children killed Dec. 14. “As elected representatives, it is your job to pass the legislation that will keep your constituents safe,” Wheeler said, calling for a database linking gun owners and those suffering from mental illness. Wheeler’s statement was followed by applause, as well as every other statement delivered in the Newtown High School Auditorium. Although the cameras have left Newtown, this town isn’t hiding from the tragedy. Bill Sherlach, the husband of school psychologist Mary Sherlach, who died in the shooting, said he has a deep respect for the Constitution and the 2nd Amendment right to bear arms. But he called for a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. Wednesday’s hearing lasted six hours and was the fourth and final meeting of a bipartisan legislative task force. http://abcn.ws/U1MU5N
MEET THE NEW SENATOR FROM MASSACHUSETTS. William “Mo” Cowan will temporarily fill the Senate seat being vacated by John Kerry, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick announced yesterday. ABC’s Elizabeth Hartfield notes that Cowan is Patrick’s former chief of staff and will serve the Bay State in the Senate for almost five months, until a special election to fill out the rest of Kerry’s term. Patrick also formally announced that the special election will take place June 25. Cowan was perhaps one of the less well-known candidates on the list of potential interim appointments to fill Kerry’s seat upon his resignation. Vicki Kennedy, the wife of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, who held the state’s other seat, and former Rep. Barney Frank were also on the list of possible temporary replacements. Cowan’s appointment is historically significant in Massachusetts and nationwide. When Cowan takes office, it will be the first time in U.S. history that two black senators will be serving simultaneously in the Senate (South Carolina Sen. Tim Scott is the other.) Cowan will be the eighth ever African-American senator. It will also mark the first time in Massachusetts history that there will not be at least one white male among the Senate delegation. Cowan will join Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who became the state’s first female senator when she won her race in November. http://abcn.ws/TXXNpc
@BuzzFeedBen: While you mute Senatorial droning, read this fantastic @rubycramerstory on antastic story on Professor Hagelhttp://www.buzzfeed.com/rubycramer/what-professor-hagel-taught …
@daveweigel: Hagel info packet comes with a 6-page list of accomplishments. eg “National Farmers Union Golden Triangle Award,” Horatio Alger Award
@markknoller: On her penultimate day as Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton addresses the Council of Foreign Relations on American Leadership.
@RichardHaass: Slight US economic slowing does not bolster case of deficit deniers. It does underscore need for certainty, free trade, corporate tax reform