By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's RICK KLEIN: It's either the worst kind of Washington fight, or the best kind. The stand-off over sequestration's automatic spending cuts is peculiar in part because there's no real attempt to do anything about it. All the focus is falling on who should take the blame after it happens. So it's the worst kind of fight because something big is about to happen, with real consequences for government and military services, that almost nobody in Washington wants to see take place. But it's the best kind of fight because at least this time there's no brinksmanship and almost certainly fruitless late-night, high-stakes meeting. There will be plenty of budget battles to come, and soon. For now, though, the blame game will have to suffice.
ABC's Z. BYRON WOLF: Sequestration is starting to seem more like a "when" than an "if." As ABC's John Parkinson pointed out, there are just four Capitol Hill work days left before March 1 (and to think most of the country was happy with one short work week). Perhaps the first effects of across-the-board cuts will do what the threat of those cuts couldn't. Or perhaps sequestration will be wrapped into solutions for funding the government and raising the debt ceiling. Either way, Washington is one again showing it likes to wait until the last minute - and maybe a little beyond.
ABC-UNIVISION'S JORDAN FABIAN: This week's dust-up over the leaked White House immigration reform plan will be remembered a blip on the radar screen rather than a sign that the effort is doomed. With a few notable exceptions, the plan closely resembled a bill being crafted in the Senate. But almost immediately, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of a bipartisan group of senators negotiating a plan, blasted the White House outline as "dead on arrival" in Congress. And his office on Tuesday griped that the White House has essentially cut Republicans out of its talks on immigration. The kerfuffle sparked President Obama to phone three of the GOP senators involved in the talks on Tuesday afternoon, including Rubio. Rubio's actions might actually be a good sign for those who want to see a bill passed. By criticizing the White House, the Florida senator could provide political cover for Republicans to continue backing the ongoing effort in the Senate. Despite their policy similarities, Rubio's criticism could define the White House plan as the far left border of the debate. And if he gives his final stamp of approval to the bipartisan Senate proposal, that becomes defined as a "centrist" plan that more Republicans would be inclined to support. This week's developments are just another example of the political kabuki theater that's needed for things to get done in Washington, DC, not a sign that is comprehensive immigration reform on the verge of failure.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: "How high is up?" That's the question this morning from Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute. The pollsters at Quinnipiac are out with a new New Jersey poll and it's a record breaker. It shows a 74 percent approval rating for Gov. Chris Christie - the highest of any New Jersey governor in 17 years of Quinnipiac University surveys. New Jersey voters also say, by a 71 to 23 percent margin, that Christie deserves re-election this year. Christie's rating is currently the highest of any governor in the seven states surveyed by Quinnipiac and even 56 percent of Democrats approve of the job he is doing and almost half - 48 percent - say he deserves re-election. Christie leads his Democratic opponent, State Sen. Barbara Buono, 62 to 25 percent. Today's results are similar to a Fairleigh Dickinson poll out last month that showed a 73 percent approval rating for Christie from Garden State voters.
WHAT WE'RE READING
"OBAMA DECADES-OLD SHOOTING SCARE GUIDES ANTI-POVERTY PLAN," by Bloomberg News' Lisa Lerer. "The president's three-year stretch as a community organizer in an impoverished section of Chicago gave him a first-hand look at how gun violence affects a community. He's now drawing upon that experience, and the solutions he saw then, as he crafts a second-term agenda in which gun control finally has political momentum after the Dec. 14 shootings at a Connecticut school. As was the case in Chicago almost three decades ago, the president is seeking a holistic response to urban violence that goes beyond curbing gun use. The echoes of his early approach are evident in the 'promise zones' he unveiled last week after his State of the Union address. … During his time as an Illinois activist, organizing around the issue of gun control wasn't a priority because there was already wide agreement in Chicago that the weapons had to be curtailed. Instead, Obama worked to establish a broad base of support for children and families to make the streets safer. 'Barack was a middle-class kid; the level of social problems was eye-opening for him,' said Gerald Kellman, a local activist who brought Obama to Chicago in 1985. 'The way that he responded to the youth violence was to try to do something about poverty.'" http://bloom.bg/YyhEZ7
OBAMA TO TOUT 'FIX IT FIRST' POLICY. President Obama today plans to use his round-robin interview with local television affiliates to plug a $50 billion "Fix it First" infrastructure plan he unveiled in the State of the Union, reports ABC's Devin Dwyer. The White House says he will "lay out further details of his plan" during the interviews, including a move to accelerate federal permitting timelines for construction projects across the country and in the home states/cities of the anchors conducting the interviews. "Fix it First," as the president said last week, would focus on repairing existing infrastructure (such as the 70,000 bridges across the country considered structurally deficient) before building new roads and bridges. Here's what the president said during his State of the Union address: "I propose a "Fix-It-First" program to put people to work as soon as possible on our most urgent repairs, like the nearly 70,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. And to make sure taxpayers don't shoulder the whole burden, I'm also proposing a Partnership to Rebuild America that attracts private capital to upgrade what our businesses need most: modern ports to move our goods; modern pipelines to withstand a storm; modern schools worthy of our children. Let's prove that there is no better place to do business than the United States of America. And let's start right away."
NOTED: Vice President Joe Biden today will present the Medal of Valor - the nation's highest award for public safety officers - to 15 cops and 3 firefighters who have demonstrated exceptional bravery and courage in the line of duty. Four of the 18 medals will be awarded posthumously.
THE BAND IS BACK: ALAN SIMPSON AND ERSKINE BOWLES , TOGETHER AGAIN. Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles failed to get Washington to accept their original deficit reduction plan at the end of 2010; but this bipartisan duo is rolling out a revamped plan- and more tough talk aimed at both Congress and the President. "They haven't done any of the tough stuff, any of the important stuff, they haven't reformed the tax code…they haven't done anything to slow the rate of health care to the rate of growth of the economy, they haven't made Social Security sustainably solvent. There's about $2.4 trillion more of hard work we've gotta do," former Clinton White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles tells ABC Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl, host of the ABC/Yahoo Power Players series, "Politics Confidential." In their new plan, Simpson and Bowles call for a variety of measures that would shrink the nation's deficit, ranging from decreasing discretionary spending to reforming government programs to make them more sustainable. Simpson gets particularly passionate when talking about reforming programs utilized by the country's growing aging population, such as Medicare and Social Security, describing our current path as "madness." http://yhoo.it/YG2mAc
CONGRESS OUT OF SESSION, SEQUESTER LOOMS: Both chambers of Congress are out of session, and a solution to the automatic spending cuts, known as the "sequester," before March 1 would require something that has become characteristic of Congress in the past three years of divided government: another last-minute agreement. ABC's John Parkinson notes that the House of Representatives meets next for legislative business Feb. 25, beginning a four-day workweek that ends when sequestration takes hold March 1. Yesterday, one of the few Blue Dog Democrats remaining in the House, Rep. John Barrow, wrote a letter to the top congressional leadership asking them to reconvene the supercommittee in hope of finding bipartisan agreement to stall the sequester. Michael Steel, press secretary to Speaker Boehner, rejected Barrow's proposition to reconvene the supercommittee, echoing the speaker's position that the burden to act is on Senate Democrats. "Today, we don't need another 'Super Committee,'" Steel wrote in an email. "We need Senate Democratic Leaders to come up with a bill that can actually pass the Senate, not more show votes and soundbites." http://abcn.ws/153ydQJ
PHONE TAG: OBAMA CALLS GOP LEADERS ON IMMIGRATION REFORM. President Obama made his first direct overture to Republicans on immigration last night, placing calls to the three key GOP players on the issue in the Senate: John McCain, Lindsey Graham and Marco Rubio. ABC's Jonathan Karl reports that the calls come after Rubio called a White House immigration plan that leaked over the weekend "half-baked and seriously flawed." Rubio says he appreciated the call (even though he may have been roused from bed to take it; he's in Israel): "Senator Rubio appreciated receiving President Obama's phone call to discuss immigration reform late tonight in Jerusalem," according to a statement from Rubio's office. "The Senator told the President that he feels good about the ongoing negotiations in the Senate, and is hopeful the final product is something that can pass the Senate with strong bipartisan support." http://abcn.ws/W8tOX7
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
-OP-ED: THE HAGEL DOOMSDAY SCENARIO. Ryan Williams, an adviser to Americans for a Strong Defense, the anti-Hagel group, and a former Romney campaign spokesman pens an Op-Ed for Roll Call: "While Defense Secretary Hagel likely will not be a force to pressure North Korea and prevent a nuclear Iran, he will likely push for disarmament of one country: the United States. Without a secretary of Defense to resist State Department efforts in support of American nuclear disarmament, the Obama administration may move to reduce the U.S. nuclear arsenal, just as Hagel has recommended in the past. So in the next four years, even as North Korea and Iran expand the nuclear threat to our nation, America may have a diminished capability to deter or respond to nuclear attacks. A more dangerous North Korea. A nuclear Iran. A weaker America. These are the potential consequences of a vote to confirm Chuck Hagel's nomination as secretary of Defense. There is no guarantee that these negative consequences will not occur in any case, but given Hagel's record, we cannot expect that a Defense Secretary Hagel would act to prevent them." http://bit.ly/UHqHZO
@kenvogel: Of course! Newt launches "Lessons to be Learned" from 2012 project w/ online courses on 21st century gov't & politics http://www.humanevents.com/2013/02/20/gingrich-why-karl-rove-is-just-plain-wrong/ …
@stevenportnoy: Jackson says nothing as he enters courthouse with entourage.
@ethanklapper: Conan slated to headline WH correspondents dinner until Jay Leno shows up at last minute and demands to do it instead