By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's JONATHAN KARL: Outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta was hoping today would be his last day at the Pentagon. The White House was hoping by tomorrow they would have a new Secretary of Defense. Not so fast. It now looks like Democrats may not have the votes get Chuck Hagel confirmed - at least not yet. That's because Republicans are determined to block a straight up-or-down vote - at least for now - until Hagel turns over more information on his financial disclosure form and the Administration answers more questions on the attack on US consulate in Benghazi. Democrats are attempting to force a clean vote by tomorrow, but to overcome Republican objections they will need 60 votes to do it. And, as of right now, top Senate Democratic aides tell me they fear they don't have the votes. Ultimately, it would seem that Hagel is a shoe-in: All 55 Senate Democrats support him and so do two Republicans. But here's the catch: Republicans are saying Hagel and the White House has stonewalled their requests for documents related to his nomination and that's why they won't allow a vote at this time. Bottom Line: It's no slam-dunk that Hagel is confirmed this week.
ABC's RICK KLEIN: To filibuster or not? The fact that it's even a question - the fact that going to extraordinary measures to block a former Republican senator from being elevated to President Obama's Cabinet is under serious consideration among Republicans - speaks to the success of the defeat-Hagel movement, a success that could have unintended consequences. The coalition of groups pushing against Chuck Hagel has been unusual, but it's also been effective. Yes, Republicans have to worry about precedent in a potential filibuster of a Cabinet nominee; no majorities are permanent, and most GOP senators can figure to be around during the next presidency, plus at least the one after that. But now they also have to worry about the consequences of letting Hagel go to the Pentagon with fewer than 60 votes. Republicans will need to rally forces against the Obama national-security and foreign-policy agendas again. Big outside groups and big outside money won't like going this far on Hagel only to back down on the biggest fight.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: As the president drums up support for universal pre-kindergarten today, he may find a roadmap for his ideas from the left-leaning Center for American Progress, which proposed its own education proposal earlier this month that included universal pre- kindergarten for three- and four-year-olds. Melissa Lazarin, the education policy director at the Center told ABC News it is the "single most important investment" that can be made in education reform and "every dollar we invest, we get back." Lazarin thinks the idea can attract support in Congress from members of both parties because there is bi-partisan support at the state level."We have governors, both Republicans and Democrats, who have already, independently before this proposal, talked about great investments in pre-K," Lazarin told me. "I think there is support for this, bipartisan support and that will hopefully translate to action in Congress."
IN THE NOTE'S INBOX:
-THE RNC'S ANNUAL 'FUNNY VALENTINES'. "The Republican National Committee (RNC) launched their annual Valentine's Day cards at www.GOPValentine.com with some holiday greetings for President Obama and his liberal friends. "Everyone knows our politics could use a little more love these days. So there's no better way to celebrate than to send that politically-minded special someone a Valentine featuring President Obama or one of his fellow liberals," said RNC Chairman Reince Priebus." http://www.gopvalentine.com/
-DEMOCRACY FOR AMERICA RELEASES GUN CONTROL AD. A new television ad sponsored by the liberal advocacy group, Democracy for America, released today features the story of former Virginia Tech student John Woods as well as clips from the president's State of the Union address all in service or urging the administration and Congress to push ahead with gun control. Woods was a student at Virginia Tech during mass shooting there. His girlfriend and another friend were killed. "When the shooter bought his gun, he lied on the background check form. The gun lobby had made it impossible to verify. That was the gun he used to shoot my friends," Woods says in the ad. "That's why we need to prevent the wrong guns from getting in the wrong hands." The 30 second spot, titled "John Deserves A Vote," will run in the Washington, DC market on cable news, starting today. http://bit.ly/X7dedt
UNDERSTANDING THE NEW MINIMUM WAGE PUSH. Yesterday, President Obama hit the road in support of increasing the minimum wage, but House Speaker John Boehner spoke out against it saying he's been dealing with the issue for 28 years and it just will stall employment, notes ABC's Shushannah Walshe. "When you raise the price of employment, guess what happens? You get less of it," Boehner said. "At a time when Americans are still asking the question, 'Where are the jobs?,' why would we want to make it harder for small employers to hire people? Listen, I've got 11 brothers and sisters on every rung of the economic ladder. I know about this issue as much as anybody in this town, and what happens when you take away the first couple of rungs on the economic ladder, you make it harder for people to get on the ladder." Specifically, the president called for an increase of the federal minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to $9.00 an hour by 2015. The last time it was raised, in 2009, it was increased from $6.55 to $7.25, which translates to $15,080 a year for a fulltime worker. It was the last step of a three part increase approved by Congress in 2007. Before 2007, the minimum wage remained at $5.15 per hour for 10 years. Currently there are campaigns in states around the country - including New York, Maryland, Connecticut and New Mexico - to lobby at the state level for an increase in the state minimum wage. http://abcn.ws/YZGzFM
DRONE WARS: RAND PAUL VS. JOHN BRENNAN. It's been a busy 24 hours for Sen. Rand Paul. First, writes ABC's Chris Good, the Kentucky Republican delivered the "tea party response" to President Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday night, webcast by the group Tea Party Express. Yesterday Paul announced he'll block the confirmation of John Brennan, Obama's nominee to head the Central Intelligence Agency, until Brennan says whether he believes the president has authority to kill Americans on American soil. "I have asked Mr. Brennan if he believed that the President has the power to authorize lethal force, such as a drone strike, against a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil, and my question remains unanswered. I will not allow a vote on this nomination until Mr. Brennan openly responds to the questions and concerns my colleagues and I share," Paul said in a statement released to reporters by his press office on Wednesday. "Before confirming Mr. Brennan as the head of the CIA, it must be apparent that he understands and will honor the protections provided to every American by the Constitution," Paul said. Brennan came before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week at a sensitive time for the U.S. intelligence community, after the revelation that Obama's Office of Legal Counsel had advised that it's O.K. to kill American citizens without any judicial proceedings. http://abcn.ws/12h4d5v
RUBIO PAC OFFERING 'MARCO RUBIO WATER BOTTLE.' Sen. Marco Rubio is turning his unfortunate mid-speech water swigging from Tuesday night's State of the Union Republican response into a fundraising tactic, notes ABC's Arlette Saenz. Rubio's PAC, Reclaim America, is now offering a "Marco Rubio Water Bottle" that people can obtain by donating $25 or more to his PAC online. "Send the liberal detractors a message that not only does Marco Rubio inspire you…he hydrates you too," the donation request read. The Florida Republican tweeted a call to purchase the white bottle bearing the name "RUBIO" in red on Wednesday night. Rubio quickly made light of the water grab, which some have dubbed his "Watergate," by tweeting a photo of the water bottle in question after the speech Tuesday night. Rubio told ABC News' George Stephanopoulos Wednesday morning that the incident reminded him that he is not perfect. "God has a funny way of reminding us we're human," Rubio said on "Good Morning America". http://abcn.ws/11HFnwg
NOTED: Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio's family may be embracing Washington as a family sometime soon, notes ABC's Sunlen Miller. He would still likely maintain a residence in Miami. An aide to the Senator says that while a move for the whole family has not been "finalized" the Senator is exploring the option of uprooting the his wife and four kids (ages 10, 12, 8 and 5 years-old) to relocate full-time to Washington, DC. The Rubio's four-bedroom West Miami property was put on the market for $675,000 in November of last year, indicating a move to Washington is imminent. http://abcn.ws/X5Tdny
GOING POSTAL OVER ENDING SATURDAY MAIL. In the aftermath of the Postal Service's announcement that it will end Saturday mail delivery come August, the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs met Wednesday to chew over possible solutions to the financial difficulties facing the U.S. Postal Service, reports ABC's Mary McGuire. The USPS is financially independent of the U.S. government, and runs at an annual deficit. It suffered a $15.9 billion loss last year. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., got a bit testy over the end of Saturday mail, which he said will hurt his rural state more than some others. "I'm one of those guys who says don't end Saturday delivery, don't shut down that mail processing center in rural Montana, and I will tell you why," said Tester. In an edgy exchange with Postmaster General Patrick R. Donahoe, Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., questioned the legality of the USPS decision to end Saturday mail. "You're satisfied that you have the legal authority. I'm not. And I'm not sure that this committee is. I'm not sure the Congress is," said Pryor. Donahoe defended the decision. "I would implore this Congress not to put any other restrictions on us from a 6 to 5 day perspective. We have lost substantial volume, we have lost 27 percent of our total volume, over 30 percent of our first class volume…. This is a responsible act," said Donahoe. http://abcn.ws/12MEUbr
@markknoller: In his SOTU, Pres Obama cited Georgia & Oklahoma as 2 states "that make it a priority to educate our youngest children."
@SovernNation: New Field Poll: CA voters oppose, 53-40%, a "sugary soda tax," but would support it, 68-29% if tax $ went to school nutrition & phys ed.