By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN MEETS WITH GUN TASK FORCE: ABC’s Devin Dwyer and Mary Bruce report that Vice President Joe Biden will meet today with members of the House Democratic task force on gun violence, a day before Biden’s group is expected to present President Obama with recommendations for gun-control measures. Along with three Cabinet officials, Attorney General Eric Holder, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the House Democrats will include Reps. Mike Thompson, Bobby Scott, Chaka Fattah, Carolyn McCarthy, Jackie Speier, Elizabeth Etsy, William Enyart, Ed Perlmutter, Bennie Thompson, John Conyers, John Dingell, and Ron Barber. No Republicans are attending. WATCH ABC Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl’s “Good Morning America” report: http://abcn.ws/11uw2qa
- THIS JUST IN: President Obama will hold the final press conference of his first term this morning at 11:15 am. Later today, he meets privately with Vice President Biden and separately with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
- TODAY ON THE HILL: The U.S. House of Representatives meets this afternoon for legislative business. On the floor, lawmakers will consider the Sandy Recovery Improvement Act of 2013. This legislation does not appropriate additional funds for Sandy relief. The key vote on a $51 billion aid package, known as HR 152 comes later this week — likely Tuesday. The base bill totals $17 billion to fund immediate and critical needs for Sandy victims and their communities while an amendment would provide an additional $33 billion for disaster relief and longer-term recovery efforts.
- MARTIN O’MALLEY PUSHES FOR NEW GUN LAWS: Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, considered by some to be a 2016 presidential prospect, is launching a new gun push, The Washington Post’s Aaron C. Davis and John Wagner report: “O’Malley will seek to institute some of the nation’s strictest gun-licensing requirements, ban assault weapons and restrict visitor access to schools in one of the most expansive government responses sought to last month’s school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Perhaps most controversially, O’Malley (D) will ask the General Assembly to force prospective gun owners to provide fingerprints to state police, complete a hands-on weapon-familiarization and gun-safety course, and undergo a background check to be licensed. And the governor is seeking new measures to keep guns out of the hands of those with mental illness who show violent tendencies.” http://wapo.st/UY2QSZ
- HAPPENING TODAY: Gov. O’Malley will preview the new push when he introduces New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg at a gun control summit at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore today.
ABC’s PIERRE THOMAS: GUN SALE NUMBERS ‘LIKELY TO BE SOBERING’
It turns out that the surge in firearm sales in the United States, the subject of a front page story in The New York Times this weekend, started even before the Newtown massacre. As ABC News noted the weekend after the shooting: The Friday after Thanksgiving and the month of November were records in terms of background checks for gun sales. Then December shattered those numbers. The spike greatly complicates whatever new policy the Obama administration develops and whatever might make its way through Congress months from now. These newly-sold guns and high capacity clips will be out there, circulating. The numbers are likely to be sobering.
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: ‘SABER-RATTLING HAS ALREADY BEGUN’ IN CONGRESS
What a fitting statement on how 2013 is shaping up that Congress returns to work today to work on — things it couldn’t get done last year. Even if Hurricane Sandy funding is wrapped up quickly, the ghosts of 2012 are haunting Washington. Saber-rattling has already begun on the next series of fiscal crises — and they will be crises, though the contours of the debate and the potential solutions haven’t changed for years. It’s in this environment that a breakthrough – on spending, on guns, on immigration, on anything, really – has the potential to disrupt patterns for the better. At this early stage, it would be a surprise to get much of anything done of substance this year.
ABC’s JONATHAN KARL: ‘BACK TO WHERE WE WERE’ ON THE DEBT CEILING
Over the weekend the door officially slammed shut on the notion that the United States could mint a trillion dollar coin — an idea viewed by a few overly creative economists as a workaround to raising the debt ceiling. The Treasury Department said it would never happen. The idea was simple: Use a provision in the law that allows the Treasury Secretary to mint platinum coins of any denomination to make one (or several) worth a trillion dollars apiece. Then, the government could deposit the coins in its account at the Federal Reserve and — voila — the net debt of the United States government would be reduced by the value of the coins. But a senior administration official tells me there was one decisive factor in making that course of action impossible: The Federal Reserve said they would not view the coin as viable. “Since they wouldn’t view the coin as viable,” said the White House official, “the issue isn’t not wanting to do the coin. We just can’t.” Now back to where we were. The White House says there are only two options: 1) Congress raises the debt ceiling; or, 2) The U.S. government goes into default.
ABC’s MARTHA RADDATZ: ‘ONE MORE TROUBLING STEP’ FROM NORTH KOREA
A U.S. official tells me that North Korea is moving trucks, doing some excavation and offering other signs that a nuclear test could take place soon. But the official said they are not certain this means they are really going to test a nuke. The North Koreans are making no effort to hide anything, and they are fully aware of what our intelligence capabilities are. They know our satellite patterns. So they are being very conspicuous, which leads some to believe they may be bluffing. Or maybe Kim Jong Un just doesn’t care if we see what he is doing. The U.S. also does not know whether it would be a plutonium test (as in the past) or highly enriched uranium (more troubling). Officials can’t be certain until the test is conducted and residue is tested. If they do pop a nuke for testing, it is one more troubling step given that they have now had a successful ballistic missile launch.
THE INAUGURATION: THERE’S AN APP FOR THAT. The Presidential Inaugural Committee announced a new smartphone app that do everything from “connecting people with opportunities to attend service events across the country to providing livestream video of official events so anyone can watch history in the making.” From the PIC’s press release: “The app encourages users to serve their communities, offering the ability to look up National Day of Service events around the country. Users may filter the type of event they are interested in, whether it’s focused on education, health, community resilience, economic development, veterans and military families, faith, or the environment. Once users find the right event for them, they can RSVP and see how many others in their community plan to attend the event. App users will also be able to find their way to official Inaugural events using the app’s unique maps feature, which gets around the problems of data connections by operating offline. The maps include essential information such as event access points, portable toilet locations, and viewing screen locations.” Download here: http://action.2013pic.org/page/s/official-app%20
“THIS WEEK” REWIND:
–SEN. CORKER: CHUCK HAGEL’S ‘TEMPERAMENT’ AN ISSUE. The nomination of former senator Chuck Hagel for secretary of Defense has drawn criticism from Republicans, and on Sunday, Tennessee GOP Sen. Bob Corker questioned his temperament. Corker said: “I think another thing, George, that’s going to come up is just his overall temperament, and is he suited to run a department or a big agency or a big entity like the Pentagon. … I think there are numbers of staffers who are coming forth now just talking about the way he has dealt with them. I have certainly questions about a lot of things. I begin all of these confirmation processes with an open mind. I did have a good relationship with him.” http://abcn.ws/ROtDCo
– SEN. MANCHIN CALLS FOR ‘ALL-IN APPROACH’ TO GUNS. West Virginia Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin, a backer of gun rights, called for a broad look at gun violence: “We have to change the culture of mass violence we have. If you think it’s only about guns and that would change the culture, you’d be wrong. If you think it’s only about the lack of mental illness coverage that we give, and you would be wrong there. And if you think it’s only about the media with the video games — it takes an all-in approach.” http://abcn.ws/VDP1Lz
–PAUL KRUGMAN SCOLDS JON STEWART FOR TRILLION-DOLLAR COIN COVERAGE. In an exclusive web interview with ABC’s Ben Bell, New York Times columnist and Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman scolded Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart for dismissing the trillion-dollar-coin idea to circumvent a debt-ceiling crisis. “It is a funny thing. But you want to be funny from a point of view of understanding what the issues are. There’s a reason we’ve gotten to this place,” Krugman said. “Obviously neither he nor his staff did even five minutes of looking at the financial blogs. Lots of people think it’s a bad idea. Lots of people think it’s a good idea. But it’s not just, ‘Oh, those idiots.’” http://abcn.ws/Uh8RKm
with ABC’s Chris Good (@c_good)
ON GAY RIGHTS, POLITICIANS HAVE ‘EVOLVED’ WITH THE POLLS. ABC’s Shushannah Walshe reports: Like America, politicians have evolved on gay rights since the 1990s. Some–like Newark Mayor Cory Booker, who as a college student in 1992 admitted to how he once “hated gays”–did their evolving earlier than others. And some–like Chuck Hagel, who will have to answer questions about his late-1990s comments about gays in the military–had a lot more evolving to do. … Booker’s change of heart mimics those of numerous high-profile politicians and other Americans on the topic of gay rights and same-sex marriage. Recent polling shows just how much the country has changed on the topic. An ABC News-Washington Post poll in November showed that 51 percent of Americans support gay marriage, up sharply from 32 percent in mid-2004. … Now, nine states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry. But in 1996 politicians who have now so vocally evolved on the issue, like Vice President Joe Biden, voted to pass the law opposing such marriages. http://abcn.ws/V2OkKI
GUN CONTROL CROWDING OUT OBAMA’S 2ND-TERM AGENDA. Analysis from ABC’s Rick Klein: A month after the unfathomable tragedy at Sandy Hook, the president has positioned himself to take on a fight with long odds as his biggest domestic-policy initiative this side of the never-ending fiscal fights. The valuable run-up to the inauguration — traditionally a White House’s best chance to put forward a bold new policy initiative — is being dominated by the polarizing debate over gun control. The coming fight has broad implications on virtually every other Washington priority in 2013 and beyond. … After a campaign devoid of much inspiration, a passionate debate that gets to the heart of the nation’s culture may be what the recently reelected president needs. … if the president walks away with something substantial, at the very time that major progress on any front is so illusory in Washington, the moment won’t have been wasted. http://abcn.ws/ZOvare
‘GUN APPRECIATION DAY’ ORGANIZER: WE’RE NOT EXTREMISTS. Partly out of dissatisfaction with the National Rifle Association, a D.C.-based media consultant is calling for a nationwide celebration of guns — and despite accusations that he’s leading a fringe coalition, Larry Ward says the backers of Gun Appreciation Day aren’t extremists. “If being a constitutionalist is extreme, so be it,” said the man who recently told CNN that if blacks had guns, slavery wouldn’t have happened. The NRA hasn’t attached its name to Gun Appreciation Day, and Ward says the NRA has nothing to do with it. “I think that the NRA did not do a good job handling this,” Ward told ABC News. “I’ve said before that I think they should have come out immediately and offered their condolences and just expressed that gun control is not going to fix this.” His message: “We have 20,000-plus laws on the books right now for guns in this country. Those laws failed in Virginia Tech, they failed in Aurora, they failed in Newtown, and the truth is criminals don’t follow laws.” http://abcn.ws/13saUPM
ADVOCATES SEE ‘OPPORTUNE MOMENT.’ ABC’s Betsy Klein reports on the expected recommendations of Vice President Joe Biden’s gun task force: Though gun control advocates say this is an “opportune moment” to enact stricter gun controls, the National Rifle Association is vowing to fight what it calls “a real threat to Second Amendment rights.” … Among the recommendations could be reinstituting the assault rifle ban. A ban was passed in 1994 as part of a crime bill, but expired 10 years later with its effectiveness still highly debated. Universal background checks are also expected to be recommended. Currently, background checks are only conducted when a gun is purchased at a retailer. Universal background check would extend to any private sale of a gun, eliminating the loop hole of gun shows. Biden may also recommend limit magazine clips, possibly banning high-capacity clips and restricting gun users to 10 rounds of ammunition, sparking what some call a “war on ammo.” http://abcn.ws/10qCDT7
POLITICO: HOUSE GOP EYES SHUTDOWN. Politico’s Jim Vandehei, Mike Allen, and Jake Sherman report: “House Republicans are seriously entertaining dramatic steps, including default or shutting down the government, to force President Barack Obama to finally cut spending by the end of March. The idea of allowing the country to default by refusing to increase the debt limit is getting more widespread and serious traction among House Republicans than people realize … ‘I think it is possible that we would shut down the government to make sure President Obama understands that we’re serious,’ House Republican Conference Chairwoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington state told us. ‘We always talk about whether or not we’re going to kick the can down the road. I think the mood is that we’ve come to the end of the road.’” http://politi.co/UjIjIt
REID DENIES INVOLVEMENT IN BRIBERY CLAIM. Roll Call’s Niels Lesniewski reports: “Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid broke days of silence on Sunday evening to deny any knowledge or involvement in a Utah case in which a man claims to have funneled money to others in an attempt to get the Nevada Democrat to intervene in a Federal Trade Commission case. ‘Senator Reid has no knowledge or involvement regarding Mr. Johnson’s case,’ a statement from Reid’s office said. ‘These unsubstantiated allegations implying Senator Reid’s involvement are nothing more than innuendo and simply not true.’ A Utah man told federal investigators that he channeled money through the state’s new attorney general in a bid to convince Reid to intervene in stopping an FTC investigation against him.” http://bit.ly/Y4xqip
U.S. FORCES INVOLVED IN FAILED SOMALIA HOSTAGE MISSION. ABC’s Matthew Larotonda reports: President Obama divulged today that the U.S. military played a role in a botched attempt by French commandos to free a hostage in Somalia on Friday. In a letter to Congress released this evening the president says service members “provided limited technical support” in the raid–likely referring to intelligence or surveillance assistance–although he denies the forces took direct action in the assault on the compound. The NATO member state was attempting to free a French intelligence agent that had been captured by Islamic militant group al-Shabab three years ago. The hostage and at least once French soldier died in the ensuing firefight, which also killed a reported 17 militants, according to the French government. A town elder told The Associated Press the commandos had also shot Somalis who had turned on flashlights during the nighttime raid attempting to discern what the commotion was hitting their streets. http://abcn.ws/WE3bIs
@BenSherwoodABC: Gratitude. Just one word that comes to mind today when I think about the last 138 days…the next 138 …and every day.