Rough Road For The Chuck Wagon

Nati Harnik/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • SELLING THE STATE OF THE UNION - DAY THREE: President Obama has a full schedule today, including a trip to Chicago, the last stop on his State of the Union tour. ABC's Mary Bruce reports that Obama is expected to highlight his proposals to curb gun violence in remarks at Hyde Park Academy this afternoon. This morning in Washington, the president hosts Italian President Giorgio Napolitano for a bilateral meeting in the Oval Office. And mid-morning, Obama honors the 18 recipients of the 2012 Presidential Citizens Medal, the nation's second-highest civilian honor. Recipients include the six educators killed at Sandy Hook Elementary. At the end of his whirlwind Friday, the president flies to Palm Beach where he remains for the long holiday weekend.
  • THIS WEEK ON "THIS WEEK" - PAUL RYAN AND DENIS McDONOUGH: House Budget Committee Chair and former 2012 Republican vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., gives his response to President Obama's State of the Union address to ABC News Chief White House correspondent Jonathan Karl, in a "This Week" Sunday exclusive. Plus, newly-appointed White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough discusses the roadblocks facing President Obama's second term agenda, Sunday on "This Week." And the powerhouse roundtable debates all the week's politics with ABC News' George Will; Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas; Former House Speaker and 2012 Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich; Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus; and former Romney campaign senior adviser Stuart Stevens. Plus, in this week's Sunday Spotlight, Dr. Ben Carson, Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins, gives his diagnosis for the current state of our union and discusses his recent remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Tune in Sunday:


ABC's Z. BYRON WOLF: Fact: Barring a political meteor, Chuck Hagel will be Defense Secretary. So his filibuster Tuesday night wasn't really a filibuster. But it says something important about how the Senate is working. According to Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., Democrats could just have waited ten days and he'd have voted allowed a vote. But rather than wait (and what really could happen in the next ten days?), Democrats insisted on a vote they knew would fail. Now they can accuse Republicans of filibustering even as they're relatively sure Hagel will be sworn in. Neither side looks very good.

ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: It was exactly one week ago that a source affiliated with the anti-Hagel movement gave me this simple - but prescient - assessment of the former senator's chances of getting confirmed. "Time isn't Hagel's friend," the source told me. And even if pro-Hagel forces muster the votes they need to make him the next Defense Secretary (as my colleague Z. Byron Wolf predicts above), there is already a certain sense of vindication by some of the groups on the right that have been spending time and money trying to jettison his nomination. "If Chuck Hagel cannot answer basic questions and disclose the information requested by the Senate, he should withdraw his nomination for the good of the country," Ryan Williams, a spokesman for Americans for a Strong Defense, said yesterday. And American Future Fund founder Nick Ryan chimed in: "The nomination process should not move forward until the Senate has absolute confidence the nominee is steady, principled and prepared and until he is transparent with Americans about where his foreign funding originates."

VIDEO OF THE DAY: NUCLEAR WEAPONS EXPERT: NORTH KOREA'S PROGRESS POSES SERIOUS THREAT. Following North Korea's nuclear test on Tuesday, nuclear security expert Joe Cirincione tells ABC's Martha Raddatz, host of the ABC/Yahoo Power Players series, "On the Radar," that North Korea's main motivation is to gain stature in the international community and says the U.S. should engage diplomatically with Pyongyang to stave off further weapons testing. "In large part, this is to get our attention," says Cirincione, president of the nuclear security foundation Ploughshares Fund. "It's aimed at us. They want to increase their bargaining value, they want to increase their prestige. I think there's a deal here to be made, if we're willing to talk to them directly." In calling for diplomatic discussions with North Korea, Cirincione points out that over the past 12 years, Pyongyang has only conducted missile and nuclear tests during times when the United States has not been in discussions with the isolated country. And the time to talk is now, as Cirincione says Pyongyang is only a matter of "several years away" from developing a weapon that could be more menacing.


"CAN MARCO RUBIO LIVE UP TO THE HYPE?," by the National Journal's Beth Reinhard. "Rubio is the GOP's Barack Obama, minus the intellectual heft intimated by two Ivy League degrees and a law-school faculty post. A Generation X-er with a name that sounds like change. The author of an American Dream-laced memoir that, audiences are frequently reminded, helped pay off his student loans. A former state lawmaker and a Senate short-timer with a thin binder of achievements but perhaps blessed with the greatest rhetorical gifts in politics today. '[Rubio] is the best communicator since Ronald Reagan,' Republican brass Karl Rove gushed recently on Fox News. Like Obama, Rubio is increasingly viewed by his party as a transcendent figure who can build a winning coalition among a younger and increasingly diverse electorate - and, by the way, deliver the Republican response to the State of the Union in both English and Spanish. The buy-in speaks to Rubio's uncommon knack for politics and the desperation of a party dependent on a shrinking white vote. 'Rubio has exactly what Obama had - a party that has lost two successive presidential elections and is searching for a savior in the face of serious demographic challenges,' says Faith and Freedom Coalition Chairman Ralph Reed, a leading Christian conservative. 'Whether Marco is the same elixir for the GOP is unknowable today.'"


HAGEL: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT? The Senate will recess for the president's day holiday, until Monday, February 25th. They will take up Hagel's nomination again then, reports ABC's Sunlen Miller. In the intervening ten days, Republicans say they will use that time to gather additional information on Hagel, including getting transcripts of speeches Hagel has given and certain financial disclosures that they have not been provided yet. To note - Republicans are satisfied now on the answers they've received from the White House on Benghazi, so they are only holding up the nomination now over details about Hagel. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who has led the charge against Hagel, said that should there be no "bombshells" in any new information unearthed about Hagel in the next 20 days then Republicans will be supportive of moving forward to a final up or down vote on Hagel.

NOTED: A Defense official told ABC News that "Secretary of Defense [Leon Panetta] will continue to perform the duties of the Secretary of Defense until such time that a new Secretary of Defense is confirmed by the Senate."

PRESIDENT PROMOTES PRE-SCHOOL FOR ALL. President Obama's goal of guaranteed preschool education for every American 4-year-old is arguably the boldest proposal of his second term - a sweeping expansion of the nation's taxpayer-funded public school system, bigger than anything in a generation. It would also be expensive - by one estimate, costing $10.5 billion a year. In Georgia, where universal pre-K access is already the goal, officials put the annual cost at $10,000 per child. But yesterday Obama argued here that a sea change in expert thinking about pre-primary education shows that the investment is worthwhile and overdue, promising social and economic benefits for years to come. "This is not babysitting," Obama said at an event at a suburban recreation center to promote his plan. "Study after study shows that the earlier a child begins learning, the better he or she does down the road," he said. "But here's the thing: We are not doing enough to give all of our kids that chance." "The size of your paycheck, though, shouldn't determine your child's future. So let's fix this," he added.

PALLONE V. BOOKER FOR LAUTENBERG'S SEAT? Sen. Frank Lautenberg's decision yesterday not to seek another term paves the way for Newark Mayor Cory Booker to run for Senate without a primary fight against the 89-year-old. But that doesn't mean Booker will walk to the nomination. In an interview with ABC News, Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ) stressed that "today is Senator Lautenberg's day," but did acknowledge that he is going to explore a bid for U.S. Senate. "I'll tell you this, it obviously changes the political landscape," Pallone said. "I've always been interested in the Senate and it's something I'm going to continue to explore." Pallone, 61, is from New Jersey's 6th district and has been in office since 1989. He wouldn't answer any other questions about a possible bid, stressing he didn't want to trample on Lautenberg's decision, calling him a "good friend."

LOVE IS IN THE AIR (AT 1600 PENNSYLVANIA AVE). First Lady Michelle Obama warned her husband to be prepared-it would come sooner than he thought, she told him, notes ABC's Reena Ninan. She didn't need a classified intel briefing to warn her that their pre-teen girls could be dating soon. When President Obama was asked last fall about the potential of his older daughter, Malia, having boyfriends, he told Entertainment Tonight, "She may not be able to date until she's 30 or 35." But Mrs. Obama knew better. "No honey, it will be sooner than that, so brace yourself," she countered. So has the time finally come? Did the president, while talking about early childhood education, hint at a rally in Decatur, Ga., yesterday that one of his girls is dating? "I do have to warn the parents who are here, who still have young kids, they grow up to be, like five feet 10 inches. And even if they're still nice to you, they basically don't have a lot of time for you during the weekends," Mr. Obama said. "They have sleepovers and dates. So all that early investment just leaves them to go away."


@marcorubio: This is one of the best opinion pieces I have read in a long time. Must Read! #debt #sayfie

@ZekeJMiller: Donilon leading US delegation to South Korean presidential inauguration later this month.

@Jordanfabian: MT @byronyork During FL getaway, Obama will receive golf lessons from Butch Harmon, perhaps most famous teacher in game

@ThePlumLineGS: Position in fiscal debate held by progressive Dems is less marginal than that held by entire GOP leadership …

@MarkLeibovich: If Washington worked in a more bipartisan manner and congress spent more time socializing across aisle, meteors would never strike Earth!

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