By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's RICK KLEIN: It's a rivalry too good to not be true: The vice president and the secretary of state, Nos. 2 and 3 on the power charts (and not necessarily on that order), both harboring long-held ambitions for the top spot. What makes it particularly remarkable now that is that Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton are both enjoying moments that showcase their best qualities. Biden has been revealed as the consummate dealmaker, a not-so-secret force and weapon on the inside game. Clinton's force of personality was on display this week with her virtuoso valedictory performance on the Hill. Biden took the inside path (35 years in the Senate) to the Obama White House; Clinton blazed her own outside path (unknown nationally when Biden first ran for president, then as first lady and a senator) to the same place. And as they continue that way now, with Biden staying on and Clinton striking out on her own, they set up a potential 2016 matchup that tests the Obama legacy against the Obama spirit. Until then, it's worth savoring the moments in the limelight for two titans of the Democratic Party.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Some conservative chatter when Hillary Clinton first fell ill was that it was a cover up because she was afraid to testify about the Benghazi terrorist attack. It seems stunning to think that now - not just because she had a concussion, a blood clot, and a hospital stay - but because of what a bold, decisive job she did testifying yesterday. She took on conservative senators like Ron Johnson of Wisconsin and Rand Paul of Kentucky while receiving praise from both sides of the aisle even ahead of some of the tougher questioning. The only possible stumble was in her tense back and forth with Johnson when talking about the reasons behind the attack she passionately said, "What difference does it make at this point?" It's something that you can easily see in an opponent's ad if she decides to run for president in 2016. Another thing we learned from the hearing? Looks like Rand Paul might follow in his father's footsteps and run for president.
ABC's Z. BYRON WOLF: Two days after President Obama offered his second inaugural grand progressive vision for America, the Pentagon moved toward allowing women in combat. Some might quibble with how many women are in his cabinet or how forcefully he has (or hasn't) pushed for marriage equality. But there is little doubt that when this president leaves office his administration will have helped to transform the military by allowing gays to serve openly and placing women on the front lines.
ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: Just under five months ago, Democrats gathered in Charlotte, N.C. to see Barack Obama officially accept their party's presidential nominee for a second term. We all know how that story ended. Over the next few days, the leadership of the Republican National Committee, state GOP chairs and party leaders from around the country are descending on the same city - in the only swing state Mitt Romney won in November - to hold the RNC's annual winter meeting. It comes as Republicans are still in the midst of assessing what went wrong during the 2012 cycle and what Republicans need to fix as the midterm elections and the next presidential contest approach. GOP Chairman Reince Priebus, who is expected to win re-election for another term tomorrow, launched what he calls the "Growth and Opportunity" project to do just that. Where are Republicans drawing at least some of their inspiration from? As one GOP state committee member who traveled to Charlotte for the meeting noted, "We could learn a lot from the president's campaign."
ABC's CHRIS GOOD: The White House will blow its Feb. 4 deadline to offer a budget proposal to Congress, and Congress will probably miss its April 15 deadline to pass one. There are no real consequences, and after Obama won re-election over GOP complaints about no budget, even the political imperative seems weak. So why do we need a budget, anyway? Conservatives explain that Congress needs to organize its spending priorities. Here's one House GOP aide: "That's nearly 2.5 years of running the government based on spending levels and operating priorities from when Pelosi was still speaker. Obviously things change and agencies/departments need to update … We need a budget just like a business or a family needs a budget. … budgets also provide an outlook in the years ahead."
ANALYSIS: IS THE NEW OBAMA AN OPPORTUNITY FOR THE GOP? ABC News Political Analyst Matthew Dowd writes: At this point, the interpretation many have made of President Obama's second inaugural address is that he is going to govern based on the 25 percent progressives, and Republicans in Congress are going to govern based on the 35 percent conservatives. … Many Democrats are celebrating the results of the last election as a reflection that the progressive viewpoint is where the majority of citizens want to go. This is foolhardy and creates a tremendous opportunity for Republicans in the next presidential election if they are smart enough to come up with a candidate who speaks to a majority of the country and speaks to values at the core of that majority. http://abcn.ws/10MK06R
with ABC's Chris Good ( @c_good)
NEXT UP: JOHN KERRY. After Hillary Clinton appeared on the Hill to talk about Benghazi, her likely successor as secretary of State will begin confirmation hearings today when he appears before Senate Foreign Relations Committee. CNN's Jessica Yellin and Holly Yan note that his prospects are good: "Nine years after his presidential bid ended in defeat, John Kerry's political career might take a major turn Thursday during his hearing to become the next secretary of state. The longtime senator from Massachusetts could sail to an easy confirmation, as politicians from both parties expressed optimism he would win approval. … Kerry is noted for having the experience, gravitas and relationship-building skills that could help him succeed Hillary Clinton, the outgoing top U.S. diplomat." http://bit.ly/W03qkz
ROMNEY TO WASHINGTON. ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports: Mitt Romney is headed to Washington, D.C. Not in the way he would have liked and not in time for Monday's inauguration, but the former GOP presidential candidate and his wife, Ann, will be in D.C. Friday for a luncheon reception in their honor at the J.W. Marriott Hotel, according to two former aides. National Journal was the first to report the information, adding the luncheon is being thrown by two former campaign fundraisers: Virginia philanthropist Catherine Reynolds and Marriott Hotel's own Bill Marriott Jr. http://abcn.ws/Vkv3az
JOBLESS CLAIMS STAY AT FIVE-YEAR LOW. NPR's Mark Memmott reports: "The number of first-time claims for unemployment insurance dipped by 5,000 last week from the week before, to 330,000, the Employment and Training Administration reports. That means claims remain at a low level not seen since January 2008." http://n.pr/UYR4YL
FDR 2.0? BIDEN TO HOST 'FIRESIDE HANGOUT' ON GUNS. ABC's Arlette Saenz reports: Vice President Joe Biden will hold a modern-day version of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's "fireside chat" Thursday when he participates in a Google+ Hangout on gun violence. In what Google is calling a "Fireside Hangout," the vice president will take part in a 30-minute online meeting starting at 1:45 p.m. ET on Thursday to discuss the administration's recommendations on curbing gun violence. The vice president will be joined in the hangout by Guy Kawasaki, Phil DeFranco, and "PBS NewsHour's" Hari Sreenivasan, who will moderate the event. http://abcn.ws/Xy4wkm
GALLUP: THE MOST POLARIZED YEAR EVER. The polling firm finds President Obama's fourth year in office tied for the most politically polarized, Gallup's Jeffrey M. JOnes writes: "During his fourth year in office, an average of 86% of Democrats and 10% of Republicans approved of the job Barack Obama did as president. That 76-percentage-point gap ties George W. Bush's fourth year as the most polarized years in Gallup records." http://bit.ly/YpECFY
HOW 2016ers PLAYED AT THE BENGHAZI HEARINGS. ABC's Arlette Saenz reports: Wednesday's hearings with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton may have been about Benghazi, but they also stoked some 2016 chatter, as they included three politicians who could wind up as big names in the next presidential election. … In the hot seat: potential Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton … Clinton was animated, combative, emotional and at times defiant as she endured nearly five hours of questioning from both sides of Congress … Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., who sits atop many potential 2016 candidate lists, adopted a mild-mannered approach … But Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., who told ABC News' Jonathan Karl last year that he's "interested" in a 2016 run, delivered a much harsher greeting to Clinton, saying he would have fired her if he had been president. http://abcn.ws/10xSOZn
@mikememoli: WASHINGTON (AP) - Weekly US unemployment applications fall to 5-year low of 330,000, hopeful sign for job market.
@CHueyBurnsRCP: "It's a good move for [House Republicans]. Harry Reid is a hell of a lot better opponent the Barack Obama." http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/01/24/forget_obama_house_gops_target_is_senate_dems_116784.html#.UQFBLlFjeZo.twitter …