By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: We're certainly in the midst of a Marco Rubio moment. Already the subject of intense speculation about a possible 2016 presidential bid, Rubio raised his profile once again as a member of the Senate's "Gang of Eight," which is pushing forward with an immigration reform proposal. Since then he has weighed in with a Spotify playlist (a clear sign of his future political ambitions) and, in an interview with BuzzFeed's Ben Smith, he took a firm stand on an important debate: "I think Tupac's lyrics were more insightful, my opinion, with all apologies to the Biggie fans." All kidding aside, Rubio's star is rising as fast as ever - especially at a moment with Republicans are considering how to broaden their appeal to Hispanic voters. Yesterday, it was announced he will give the Republican response to the president's State of the Union address (in English and Spanish). And today he's getting the Time Magazine cover treatment with a headline that reads, "The Republican Savior." The Florida senator gamely responded to the newest burst of attention on Twitter this morning: "There is only one savior, and it is not me. #Jesus."
ABC's RICK KLEIN: If Georgia wasn't on Karl Rove's mind before, it will be now. The Senate candidate of Rep. Paul Broun, R-Ga., figures to be the first to test American Crossroads' pledge to support the most electable - not necessarily the most purely conservative - candidate in GOP primaries. Broun, a Navy and Marine Corps veteran and a medical doctor, has tea party street cred. But he also has a string of damaging quotes - suggesting evolution and the Big Bang theory were the devil's work, saying President Obama upholds the "Soviet constitution" - that he can't make disappear. (And he'll have 22 months to try not to say anything similar.) Other candidates, including other House members, are very likely to run in the Republican primary in Georgia. Rove's group is very likely to support one of them - and risk the backlash of the tea party movement if it means getting a general election candidate who can hold the seat.
ABC's CHRIS GOOD: Karl Rove's new primary-spending group, the Conservative Victory Project, may have already endangered its own mission, simply by existing. The "establishment" label can be a kiss of death in a Republican primary, and one has to assume that as soon as a candidate wins the support of Rove's new group, tacit or explicit, that the label will come along with it. I'm looking for the group to back a few charismatic, strong-fundraising tea partiers to throw off the critics - and to avoid sinking the establishment candidates it back. The conservative reaction has been so swift and thorough that it almost has to.
ABC's DEVIN DWYER: Labor unions and members of Congress on both sides of the aisle Wednesday called the elimination of Saturday U.S. mail delivery "disastrous" for American commerce and communications - and workers' jobs. But don't expect President Obama to come quickly to the rescue. The White House in 2011 actually proposed slashing the weekend service, and later backed a Senate plan that would have allowed the service cut, though delaying it by two years as a "last resort." Spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday Obama was still evaluating the USPS decision, but generally favored a "comprehensive package" of reforms to close a $15 billion budget gap. (Ending Saturday mail delivery would save $2 billion a year.)
THE STATE OF THE UNION IS… BY MICHELLE RHEE. Each day leading up to President Obama's State of the Union address, ABCNews.com will bring you a different newsmaker's thoughts on what "The State of the Union is …"
Michelle Rhee, founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, told ABC News the country needs to focus more on public education in order to improve the nation's economy and increase its competitiveness. "The state of the union is increasingly going to have to focus on public education and what we can do to improve it," Rhee, who is a former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools, said. "With all of the talk these days about jobs and the economy, I think what people are missing is the fact that unless we fix our public school system we're never going to be able to compete in the global marketplace," Rhee added. http://abcn.ws/VJISQ6
WHAT WE'RE READING
-" DAVID KUO INVITES YOU TO WORK A MIRACLE," by the Washington Post's Karen Tumulty. "We've all had that painful, awkward impulse. A friend is struggling with a crisis or a loss, and we ask, lamely: 'What can I do for you?' We ask, knowing the truth is, not much. David Kuo has surely heard that a lot during his decade-long struggle with brain cancer. And on Jan. 30, he offered this answer, via his Facebook page: 'Headed over to ucla for surgery - kicks off at 830 local. Favor? Do something outrageous today - give way more than reasonable to a homeless person, take the family out for an ice cream dinner … And serve only ice cream, call someone you hurt and ask forgiveness, call someone who hurt you and give forgiveness … And send me a pic.' I have only met David a time or two. We are 'friends' only in the Facebook sense of that word. And like just about everyone else in Washington, I was aware of the controversy/acclaim that surrounded him after he left the George W. Bush White House. Kuo had run its faith-based initiative during the first term, and then wrote a book accusing the president of failing to live up to his 'compassionate conservative' agenda when it came to helping the helpless among us. But over recent months, I feel I have come to know Kuo well, as I have followed his Facebook postings. He has shared this latest turn of his illness with exactly the kind of grace and strength that came through in that request for a 'favor.' Again and again, he has reminded me that ordinary moments are the greatest gifts of all." http://wapo.st/11q1p6p
THE NEW GOP CIVIL WAR: ROVE VS. CONSERVATIVES. "There is now an out in the open civil war within the Republican Party," conservative Iowa radio host Steve Deace wrote in a Politico op-ed this week. He's right, notes ABC's Chris Good. Karl Rove has launched a new group, the Conservative Victory Project, which will aim to select GOP Senate candidates, weeding out future Todd Akins and squashing the prospects of anyone deemed unelectable. It's not sitting well with conservatives. Its first purported opponent is Steve King, a very conservative congressman with a history of colorful comments, who may be considering a run for Senate in Iowa. After pantheon of Tea Party campaign groups (The Club for Growth, FreedomWorks and Tea Party Express) bashed the new effort, on Wednesday a cluster of conservative leaders demanded the new organization fire its spokesman, Jonathan Collegio, for calling Brent Bozell, a pundit who runs the conservative Media Research Center, a "hater" in a recent radio interview. Collegio had alleged that Bozell, a critic, has an ax to grind against Rove. "His attack was not grounded in reason or principle," they wrote to Stephen F. Law, who will head up the new group. "On behalf of the conservative movement, we are demanding you terminate Mr. Collegio. An apology is not acceptable." The list of 25 signers included Phyllis Schlafly, Tony Perkins, Tea Party Patriots co-founder Jenny Beth Martin, Manuel Miranda and Richard Viguerie - all big names in the conservative grassroots. http://abcn.ws/WT19Ft
HILLARY CLINTON - OUT OF PUBLIC LIFE, BUT STILL IN THE PUBLIC EYE. Less than a week after Hillary Clinton stepped down from her position as Secretary of State - and, by her own account, began a break from political life - she is emerging on the Web in a very public way. Already two different official sites are being tied to her and what could be her return to politics in the future. First there is www.HillaryClintonOffice.com. Registered last week, the site features a picture of Clinton with her name and a button one can click to get in contact with her. There is also a space for scheduling and media requests. There was no immediate response to such a request from ABC. Though it's unclear who is actually running the site, someone is reading it regularly, according to this section of the privacy notice: "If you wish to unsubscribe from communications, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. HillaryClintonOffice.com will regularly process these request (sic)." Meanwhile, her husband, former President Bill Clinton, and daughter Chelsea are encouraging people to send Hillary online thank-you notes. http://abcn.ws/11M53qH
WHITE HOUSE VOWS TO WORK WITH CONGRESS ON DRONES. The White House yesterday reaffirmed its commitment to working with Congress on the legal issues surrounding the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, including American citizens, as pressure from Capitol Hill mounts, according to ABC's Mary Bruce. "The president has been and is committed to working with Congress on these matters and to providing information to Congress, and that process continues," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. "When it comes to some of these matters, the information that is held - is kept secret - is kept secret for national security reasons, not to keep it from the American people but to keep it from those who plot daily and continually to do harm to the United States and do harm to the American people. That is the premise behind which decisions like that are made," he added. Lawmakers are threatening to block President Obama's nominee to take over the CIA, John Brennan, in an effort to gain access to information about the administration's legal authority to kill American citizens in counter-terrorism operations.
CHRIS CHRISTIE TO DOOMSDAY DOCTOR: 'SHUT UP.' New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took on a former White House doctor Wednesday who said he was at risk of dying in office because of his weight, calling her a "hack" and telling her to "shut up" unless she examines him. Dr. Connie Mariano, who was President Clinton's doctor in the White House, went on CNN and said, "I'm worried about this man dying in office" after Christie confronted his own weight issue head-on at a press conference Tuesday. "I find it fascinating that a doctor in Arizona who has never met me, never examined me, never reviewed my medical history or records, knows nothing about my family history, could make a diagnosis from 2400 miles away," the traditionally tough-talking governor said. "She must be a genius. She should probably be the surgeon general of the United States, I suspect, because she must be a genius." Christie, who has not ruled out a 2016 presidential bid, also said his children watched the CNN segment, and his 12-year-old son asked him, "Dad, are you going to die?" "This is just another hack who wants five minutes on TV," Christie said. "And it's completely irresponsible, completely irresponsible … and people who have a medical license, who have the privilege of having a medical license, should in my view conduct themselves more responsibly than that. If she wants to get on a plane and come here to New Jersey and asks me if she wants to examine me and review my medical history, I'll have a conversation with her about that. Until that time she should shut up." http://abcn.ws/TLVB2A
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
- LABOR LEADERS LAUNCH NATIONAL IMMIGRATION CAMPAIGN. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Maria Elena Durazo, AFL-CIO National Immigration Campaign Chairwoman and the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor Executive Secretary-Treasurer, will be holding two phone press conferences Thursday morning (bilingual, then English) to announce the labor movement's campaign for common-sense immigration reform with a road map to citizenship, according to an AFL-CIO source. "They will discuss February kick-off events across the country and lay out a plan to mobilize working families nationwide."
@JohnJHarwood: Washington is slow/dysfunctional but not oblivious to political marketplace. Shift to smaller fights helps Obama & GOP. Good for economy too
@kenvogel: . @AmericanXRoads tells donors it's "completing a report" on "factors that contributed to deeply disappointing results": http://www.politico.com/story/2013/02/rove-vs-tea-party-for-gops-future-87296.html …