By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: There are two major points of consensus that have emerged from Chuck Hagel's confirmation hearing yesterday. The first is that the former GOP Nebraska senator, who is President Obama's nominee for Secretary of Defense, did not exactly deliver a command performance. Tough questions from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee - many of whom were his former colleagues - were a given. But, at times, Hagel looked either uncomfortable or unprepared. The second, and more lasting piece of conventional wisdom, is that despite his uneven presentation, he will be confirmed. In conversations with several top Republican Hill aides yesterday, all criticized Hagel and even questioned his qualifications to be the next Pentagon chief. But in the end, they all also predicted that he would successfully navigate the confirmation process.
ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ: With props in hand for his tough questioning of Chuck Hagel, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., made it clear Thursday that he's hoping to bring a Texas sized jolt to the U.S. Senate. But will it work? Members of the media ripped into Cruz's questioning as being out of context, and at least one major conservative critic, Fox News' Brit Hume, criticized Cruz's tactic, tweeting Thursday "Ted Cruz is bullying Hagel. He needs to let him finish his answers. Unimpressive round of questioning." But for the most part, the right wing ate it up watching the freshman Texas senator deliver aggressive and forceful points as Cruz showed he's willing to make waves in the senate to promote his hard-line stances which appeal to the conservative base.
ABC'S Z. BYRON WOLF: First with Susan Rice and now with Chuck Hagel, Republicans led by Sen. John McCain have targeted select members of President Obama's desired national security team. For McCain, it seems almost like payback. He lost the presidency in 2008 after taking tough political positions on the surge and being a vocal defender of the war in Iraq. Rice played a role in Obama's campaign that year. And Chuck Hagel was against him on the surge the year before. Hagel didn't pick a side in McCain's 2008 battle with President Obama, but it was news when his wife Lillibet did. "Thank god for Joe Lieberman," McCain said Thursday, referencing the surge, but he could just as well have been talking about the subsequent political contest, where Lieberman endorsed McCain over fellow Democrat Obama. Don't forget Democrats did much the same to former President Bush with everyone from John Ashcroft to John Bolton.
ABC's RICK KLEIN: The Democratic primary for John Kerry's Senate seat in Massachusetts is exactly what party powerbrokers were trying to avoid by lining things up for Rep. Ed Markey. But the challenge from Rep. Stephen Lynch may be a blessing for Markey, assuming Scott Brown re-ups for another Senate run. Markey will be forced to the center against the more conservative Lynch - and will be pushed to reconnect with a home state he's only canvassed sporadically during a long career in the House. Lynch, a former ironworker, is more Brown than Markey; if Markey can't beat Lynch, there's no way he'd wind up beating Brown.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: A man The New York Times called this morning "the master showman of City Hall," Ed Koch, has died at 88. The same Times obituary reminds us that in 1981 he received both the Democratic and the Republican mayoral nominations, which would seem impossible now in our extremely partisan times. Koch had many successes and some failures at the helm of New York City, but today we should take a moment to honor and remember him. When asked about his mistakes (whether it be crime or litter) didn't dodge and instead agreed with the answer, "It stinks!"
VIDEO OF THE DAY: KEVIN SPACEY ON HIS 'DIABOLICAL' NEW ROLE. Washington got a taste of Hollywood this week at the premiere of the new Netflix political drama series "House of Cards," starring Kevin Spacey. Spacey plays the role of conniving Majority Whip Francis Underwood, who uses the leverages of Washington to take revenge and get his way after the new president-elect passes him over for Secretary of State. In an interview with ABC's Rick Klein and Yahoo's Olivier Knox for "Top Line," Spacey said that although his character may be described as "diabolical," he is also effective. "I look at a figure like Lyndon Johnson who I think while he like was one of these people that I am talking about, you know, the way he negotiated was incredibly tough," Spacey said. "People talk about what a difficult person he was but he also was remarkably effective. He got three civil rights bills passed in a very brief presidency." For more red carpet access and to find out what Spacey thinks of the many political characters he has played over the course of his career, check out this week's Top Line: http://yhoo.it/Xsag0S
WHAT WE'RE READING
"CAN IMMIGRATION FIX THE GOP'S HISPANIC PROBLEM?," by the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter. "By now, just about everyone understands that Republicans have a problem with Hispanic voters. The bigger question now is if a bi-partisan immigration bill will be the cure. Republicans' low standing with Hispanic voters can't be blamed solely on talk of electrified border fences or 'self-deportation' rhetoric. As GOP pollster Jan van Lohuizen wrote in December, Republicans' 'significant image problem among Hispanics… is the same problem as we have with other groups: we are seen as the party of the rich which does not care about the middle class or lower income families.' … Republicans also can't afford to let this immigration issue be the one and only way they interact with Hispanic voters. Like the spouse who receives a bunch of cellophane wrapped flowers from CVS on Valentine's Day, voters know when politicians are simply phoning it in. … As one GOP strategist told me, we have to realize that we can't just send a piece of mail in Spanish and think that's enough to win their votes. Republicans don't need to win 100 percent of these voters, or even 50 percent. Instead, it is about holding onto at least 40 percent of the Hispanic vote nationally, and, more important, not allowing the newest generation of Hispanic voters to write off the GOP completely. The bigger issue for the GOP, however, may be bringing their base along with them." http://cookpolitical.com/story/5302
JANUARY JOBS REPORT: UNEMPLOYMENT UP, BUT JOBS ADDED. The U.S. economy added 157,000 jobs in January, as the unemployment rate ticked up to 7.9 percent from 7.8 percent, according to data from the U.S. Labor Department, reports ABC's Susanna Kim. "This jobs figure today indicates that the engine of the economy is revving, but the car isn't going anywhere," said Tom di Galoma, managing director with financial services firm, Navigate Advisors LLC. Employment numbers for November were revised higher to 247,000 from 161,000. For December, they were also revised higher to 196,000 from 155,000. "The uncertainty will be around what happens with government jobs, because the uncertain impact of the fiscal cliff in December may have led to some layoffs in January," said Kevin Dunning, global economist at the Economist Intelligence Unit. "Even though it was ultimately resolved on Jan. 1, some federal government workers may have been laid off." Still, Dunning said hiring has "been quite resilient despite all the fiscal uncertainty."
TODAY AT THE WHITE HOUSE: President Obama awards twelve researchers the National Medal of Science and eleven inventors the National Medal of Technology and Innovation at the White House. According to the White House, these are "the highest honors bestowed by the United States Government upon scientists, engineers, and inventors."
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS JOE BIDEN? Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Dr. Jill Biden, have departed for Berlin, Germany, the first stop on a five-day trip to Germany, France, and the United Kingdom, his office announced last night. On the Veep's agenda: "While in Berlin, the Vice President will meet with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. While in Munich, the Vice President will deliver remarks at the Munich Security Conference, which he addressed in 2009 at the outset of the Administration's first term. The Vice President will also meet with other international leaders while in Munich. The Vice President and Dr. Biden will then visit Landstuhl, Germany, where they will visit the Landstuhl Regional Medical Center. The Vice President and Dr. Biden will also visit Paris and London. In Paris, the Vice President will meet with President François Hollande. In London, the Vice President will meet with Prime Minister David Cameron, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, and other members of the Cabinet."
CHUCK HAGEL GETS GRILLED. In a wide-ranging committee meeting that lasted all day on Thursday, former Sen. Chuck Hagel, president Obama's nominee to replace Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, faced questions on nuclear disarmament, the negative effects of potential automatic budget cuts known as "sequestration," and, most notably, Hagel's record on Middle East policy, including his stances on Israel, Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas. ABC's Chris Good notes that Hagel's exchanges with his former Republican colleagues took a bristly tone on a broad set of topics, as GOP senators repeatedly criticized his record and cut him off as he attempted to explain his stances. http://abcn.ws/XnVg3Z
MCCAIN VS. HAGEL: Arizona Sen. John McCain grilled Hagel on the former senator's opposition to the Iraq "surge," a stance that separated Hagel from most members of his party in 2007. The Arizona senator championed the "surge" both as a senator and in his 2008 presidential campaign, while Hagel joined Democrats in vocally criticizing the strategy. McCain pressed Hagel at today's hearing to say whether he believes the surge was a mistake. When Hagel declined to answer "yes" or "no," McCain told his former colleague, "I want to know if you were right or wrong. That's a direct question," repeatedly accusing Hagel of refusing to answer the question. "You're on the wrong side of it, and your refusal to answer whether you were right or wrong on it is going to have an impact on my judgment on whether to vote for your confirmation," McCain concluded.
GRAHAM VS. HAGEL: Hagel also underwent some tough, pointed questioning from Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., an ally of McCain's in the Senate. Graham pointed out Hagel's decision not to sign letters on Middle-East policy during his Senate career, at one point asking Hagel, "Do you think that the sum total of your record, all that together, that the image you've created is one of sending the worst possible signal to our enemies and friends at one of the most critical times in world history?" Hagel said he did not.
CRUZ VS. HAGEL: Perhaps the most aggressive GOP senator in questioning Hagel was newly elected Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who arranged for audio recordings of Hagel to be played in the committee room, as he questioned Hagel about a past interview. He suggested Hagel's record "demonstrates a greater antagonism for the state of Israel than any member of this body." And he requested that Hagel read and submit written reaction to a speech by Charles Freeman, a former intelligence nominee who withdrew in 2009 after controversy arose over his stances on Israel.
SENATE PASSES SHORT-TERM DEBT LIMIT DEAL. Congress can breathe for another few months. It pushed back another deadline yesterday, reports ABC's Sunlen Miller. The Senate passed a three-month suspension of the nation's borrowing limit, avoiding, for a few months, a nasty and drawn-out fight over the debt ceiling that has plagued Congress in the past as the deadline neared. The bill was passed by a vote of 64-34. The three-month extension simply puts off the fight for another day and temporarily suspends the statutory debt limit through May 18, granting the Treasury Department the additional borrowing authority to meet obligations that require payment over the next three months. Without congressional action, the Treasury Department warned, its borrowing authority would have run out by mid-February. The three-month extension of the debt limit pressures lawmakers to adopt a budget or have its members' congressional pay withheld. http://abcn.ws/Xb0nmz
NRA CHIEF PLAYS HARRY REID GUESSING GAME. Count the National Rifle Association among the very many folks in Washington wondering where Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid will land in the current gun debate, ABC's Rick Klein notes. At a breakfast with reporters yesterday, NRA President David Keene noted Reid's sometimes complicated relationship with the powerful gun-rights organization. Keene said the NRA has had a "relatively friendly relationship with the senator over time," but added that the pressure he's under from President Obama and other prominent Democrats to spearhead gun-control measures may push him in another direction. "He's under incredible pressure right now because he's got - as any member of Congress or senator does - he's got his own beliefs, he's got the views and the demands of his constituents on the one hand, the pressure he faces as a party leader and from the president on the other," Keene said at the breakfast sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "So where Harry Reid ends up in this debate is anybody's guess, and I think that's one of the guessing games that's going around Washington now," Keene added. http://abcn.ws/VwE8K3
NOTED: Tune in, ABC's George Stephanopoulos interviews Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., exclusively on "This Week" Sunday.
DON'T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HOUSE HISTORY? The Office of the House Historian and Clerk of the House's Office of Art and Archives together launched a new website, which provides a roundup on the nearly 11,000 members who've served in the House, reports ABC's Anjuli Sastry. The website contains nearly 1,000 items in its database that consists of everything House-related - from wonky photos to vintage furniture to congressional baseball cards. "We're hoping member offices can utilize [the website] and it's a resource for members, staff, and constituents," said Matt Wasniewski, House historian and one of the project's leaders. "We started out wanting a site that could engage people on the Hill and the general public who wanted to learn more." Current features of the website include the ability to search collections and oral history, find record of past House leaders, and get obscure fast facts about how the oath of office has evolved over time. Soon, Wasniewski said the site will have weekly highlights and statistical tables along with a YouTube page, RSS feed and Twitter account. http://abcn.ws/VqOppb
@IsaacDovere: Koch dead, but he has new video on NYT website, new documentary opening tonight and his Twitter account is still retweeting.
@CPHeinze: MD state rep on O'Malley: "He's not running for president. He's running for vice-president." http://www.prez16.com/2013/02/is-omalley-actually-running-for-veep.html …
@mviser: Kerry has 60 days to put 1,000 boxes from his 29-year career in the National Archives.