By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Say what must be said about Sen. Marco Rubio's awkward, thirsty star turn last night. The real measure of Rubio and his team is how they handled it. The quick move to Tweet a picture of the now-infamous water bottle showed a facility with the modern media structure that is already serving Rubio well; now, he's in on the unavoidable joke. Rubio brought his water bottle with him to his morning show interviews today, and here's guessing he'll bring it to Manchester and Cedar Rapids soon. It shows a comfort in his own skin that's part of what makes Rubio a star, regardless of how last night will be remembered.
ABC's JORDAN FABIAN: Marco Rubio's response to President Obama's State of the Union address wasn't as much about responding to the president as much as it was about the GOP's effort to rebrand itself. The Cuban-American senator used his own family's immigrant story to speak about the need for smaller government, entitlement reform, and immigration reform. His friendlier tone and personal background stood in stark contrast to the corporate-raider visage Mitt Romney projected during last year's election. "Mr. President, I still live in the same working class neighborhood I grew up in. My neighbors aren't millionaires. They're retirees who depend on Social Security and Medicare. They're workers who have to get up early tomorrow morning and go to work to pay the bills. They're immigrants, who came here because they were stuck in poverty in countries where the government dominated the economy." Despite the revamped presentation, the underlying ideas Rubio presented have largely been part of the Republican agenda for the past three decades or more. In the end, it will take a lot more than one State of the Union response for the GOP to make up their trust deficit with minorities, young people, women, and other crucial voting groups the party needs to remain viable in the long-term.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: At last night's State of the Union address, President Obama's moment was when he told Congress that victims of gun violence "deserve a vote." As his voice thundered and the victims themselves rose to their feet he demanded Congress give them an up or down vote on gun control measures. He began with 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton's parents who were seated next to the First Lady and then moved on to the most recognizable face of gun violence, and now the battle for gun control. "Gabby Giffords deserves a vote," Obama said as the crowd rose with thunderous applause at the mention of her name. "The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek, and Tucson, and Blacksburg, and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence - they deserve a simple vote." That moment will be played over and over as the fight for universal background checks and possibly an assault weapons ban goes through Congress. Giffords showed incredible courage standing in the chamber last night and now appearing in ads calling for measures like universal background checks. She is clearly the new face to take the gun control fight to her former colleagues.
ABC's CHRIS GOOD: I'm not sure what to make of the media's fascination with Ted Nugent last night. In Statuary Hall, where senators and congressmen hang out post-speech to chat with reporters and do live TV interviews, Nugent was traipsing around, followed by a herd of reporters shoving microphones at him, shuttling from one interview to the next, dropping F-bombs and generally lambasting President Obama's gun-control policies with extreme prejudice, all while wearing a camo-green cowboy hat. Nugent made the same points the NRA makes, but in extreme terms: He wants dangerous criminals to serve mandatory life sentences in every instance, and he seems to want everyone to have a gun. He doesn't believe Obama shot skeet ("If he's shooting skeet, I'm a gay pirate," he told me.) At the end of the day, Nugent is just some guy-albeit a colorful one-but he drew more attention than any U.S. senator I saw. On the one hand, that's depressing. On the other, it probably means that State of the Union speeches are standard affairs that often have little bearing on the future of federal policy. They're less about changing political course and more about the opportunity for discussion. The lesson of Nugent, I think, is this: Opinions like his probably aren't going to change, especially not because of a speech, but at least it's good to talk about them. The exact same is true for people who can vote in Congress.
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
-GOP COUNTER-PROGRAMMING: LOOK OUT FOR UNCLE SAM. According to a press release, The Republican National Committee, the National Republican Congressional Committee and the National Republican Senatorial Committee are launching a joint effort today to "remind Democrats that even if they don't want to admit it, spending in Washington is a problem. Today, Uncle Sam can be spotted around the Capitol handing out flyers encouraging Americans to remind Democrats that their spending addiction must be stopped. Just this week, the two top ranking Democrats in the House have stated that they don't think Washington has a spending problem." The Communications Directors for the National Republican Committees - Sean Spicer (RNC), Brad Dayspring (NRSC) and Andrea Bozek (NRCC) - released a joint statement today on the effort: "Uncle Sam understands Washington has a spending addiction, why don't Democrats? Our nation is $16 trillion in debt, millions of hard-working families are struggling, and Democrats continue to demand higher taxes and more money to feed Washington's wasteful spending addiction. Don't give it to them."
OBAMA'S KEY ECONOMIC PROPOSALS. President Obama used his speech to outline what the White House calls "The President's Plan for a Strong Middle Class and A Strong America." There were several new economic proposals included in this plan and a re-packaging of many ideas the President has pushed before. Here are the three most significant proposals, according to ABC's Jonathan Karl: http://abcn.ws/VeGcaM
Universal preschool education for 4-year-olds . The President called for a new program to support state efforts to ensure that all 4-year-olds have access to quality preschool - and he will set this as a national goal. The White House will not put a price tag on this proposal (although the cost will be included in the President's upcoming budget). The idea, however, is to give state's financial support for programs designed to ensure all low- and moderate-income children have access to quality preschool. Most of the cost would ultimately be paid for by the states.
Raise the Minimum Wage. The President called for raising the minimum wage from $7.25 to $9.00 an hour by 2015 and to ensure further increases by indexing the minimum wage to inflation. This is the first time President Obama has proposed raising the minimum wage (although as a candidate 2008, he promised to raise it to $9.50 by 2011.).
A $50 billion "Fix it First" infrastructure Program. The idea here is to spending $50 billion fixing America's current infrastructure (such as the 70,000 bridges across the country considered structurally deficient) rather than building new roads and bridges.
ANALYSIS: OBAMA HITS EMOTIONAL HIGH NOTE ON GUNS, NOT JOBS. President Obama brought his agenda back to the basics in the first State of the Union address of his second term, with a stripped-down economic prescription that bore the scars of four years marked by frustration, notes ABC's Rick Klein. Where Obama soared, though, is where he's tracking the national mood. On immigration, where much of the work is getting done even without his prodding, the president demanded action he's likely to get. And on gun control, with victims' families packing the gallery, the president found a clear voice that was the only hint in this speech of the Obama whose oratory fueled his rise to prominence. "I know this is not the first time this country has debated how to reduce gun violence," he said. "But this time is different." House Speaker John Boehner sat impassively off the president's shoulder, a visible reminder that not everyone in Washington shares Obama's sense of urgency on the same issues. But speeches like this are only important for their moments. Laundry lists don't age well. This wasn't how President Obama envisioned his second term when he won it, with a battle over guns that he barely hinted at during the campaign. It sure looks, though, like he knows how his tenure will be judged. If the passion in the House chamber spills out into the wider national debate, this speech will be remembered for what it captured - and for what it launched. http://abcn.ws/Z9mRv8
BACKSTORY: WHY OBAMA IS VISITING A CANADIAN MANUFACTURER. In 2011, Linamar Corp. first set up shop in Asheville, lured by state grants and a pool of workers with technical skills to do the job. It employs about 360 workers now with plans to hire 250 more and make a $75 million capital investment over the next five years, reports ABC's Devin Dwyer. "Training grants, tax credits, a fair business tax rate - those things really work," president and COO Jim Jarrell told ABC News. "We moved to North Carolina to take advantage of the incentives, knowing, however, that eventually we'd have to stand on our own two feet." But Linamar is also a bellwether for an economic recovery that continues to limp along, with little future "stimulus" in sight. The company's North Carolina facility, which makes key engine, transmission and driveline components for industrial machinery, feeds Caterpillar and Volvo. Demand from those companies only follows demand from builders and construction firms, Jarrell said. That demand continues to be "a little slower than anticipated out of the gate." http://abcn.ws/12LsVe8
MARCO RUBIO ACCUSES OBAMA OF HAVING AN 'OBSESSION WITH RAISING TAXES.' Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla. used the Republican response to President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday to challenge the president on how to best serve the middle class, arguing that the answer to alleviating the burdens on working class people is not through taxes and spending but by supporting a free enterprise system, according to ABC's Arlette Saenz. "Tax increases can't do this. Raising taxes won't create private sector jobs. And there's no realistic tax increase that could lower our deficits by almost $4 trillion. That's why I hope the President will abandon his obsession with raising taxes and instead work with us to achieve real growth in our economy," Rubio said from the Speaker of the House's conference room in the U.S. Capitol. Rubio's speech, the first ever bilingual response to the State of the Union, comes at a time when the Republican Party is struggling with how to rebrand itself and how to appeal to a growing constituency which it lost in last year's election - Latinos. http://abcn.ws/14RqDbP
THE MOMENT: Rubio rehearsed his speech Tuesday morning, but when it came to the actual delivery of the speech, Rubio hit a SNAFU. In the middle of his speech, Rubio stopped speaking and reached off screen to grab a water bottle to take a drink. The Florida senator made light of the moment afterwards, tweeting out a photo of a small Poland Spring water bottle resembling the one he took a swig from in the middle of his speech. http://abcn.ws/14RqDbP
MARK KELLY: HEIR TO GABRIELLE GIFFORDS' POLITICAL CAREER? The man by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' side Tuesday night - and always - is her husband, former astronaut Mark Kelly. He's her partner in the gun control fight, but now in Arizona he is also being seen as a possible new star who could inherit his wife's political career, notes ABC's Shushannah Walshe. Jeff Rogers, a friend of Giffords and Kelly and former chair of the Pima County Democratic Party, told ABC News that Kelly would be "an ideal candidate to take on John McCain's position in 2016." McCain, who along with Giffords' successor Ron Barber (D-Ariz.), gave Kelly and Giffords his visitor pass for the State of the Union speech, will be 80 when he is up for reelection in 2016. Rogers added that Kelly has been "putting himself out there a lot not just after the Connecticut massacre, but before then," and that he's been a public face in Tucson since the couple moved back in August. These moves make Rogers think it's possible he "would be interested in pursuing such a thing." "I think the Senate is the most logical place for him," Rogers said. An aide said that Kelly is fully focused on his wife's recovery and running the newly created super PAC to push gun control measures called Americans for Responsible Solutions. http://abcn.ws/Y8psPe
GUN VIOLENCE VICTIMS SOUND OFF. "Do something. You can." That was Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton's plea to Congress yesterday, just before she was to appear in the guest box of first lady Michelle Obama during the State of the Union address, note ABC's Matthew Larotonda and John Parkinson. The Pendletons lost their daughter Hadiya in January. She was shot, police believe, by Chicago gang members. The 15-year-old drum majorette had returned from Washington just days earlier; she had participated in the president's second inaugural festivities. "No one should feel the way we do and I'm appealing to Congress to be smarter than me. You guys signed up for the job," the mother said. The Pendletons were among at least 42 victims of gun violence invited to President Obama's address, including family members of victims of the Dec. 14 elementary school shooting in Newtown, Conn., where 20 first graders and six adults were killed. The guests were invited by the White House and dozens of lawmakers. Yesterday Cowley-Pendleton and other guests spoke in the Capitol about what they want from Congress and the Oval Office. Read more of their comments: http://abcn.ws/VTakph