By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: Today, Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican from Ohio, the former head of the powerful Office of Management and Budget under President George W. Bush and once a top contender to be Mitt Romney's running mate showed us that he is a dad first and politician second. "It's a change of heart from the position of a father," Portman told reporters from three Ohio newspapers yesterday reversing his opposition to gay marriage, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer. In addition to his 21-year-old son, who told Portman and his wife that he was gay two years ago, the Ohio senator said he consulted with clergy, the bible and even former Vice President Dick Cheney before coming to his conclusion. CNN's Dana Bash observed that in her interview with the senator, he "was anything but comfortable discussing something as private and personal as his son's sexuality," and at times, "even seemed to tremble a bit." But, it was this high-ranking Republican's reaction to his college-age son's revelation that is most telling: "Our reaction was not about policy or positions. It was about him as a son and letting him know we were 110 percent supportive of him."
ABC's ELIZABETH HARTFIELD: If Rob Portman's rhetoric on gay marriage sounds vaguely familiar, that might be because it closely mirrors President Obama's words when he came out in favor of gay marriage in his interview with ABC's Robin Roberts last year. Obama spoke of talking to "friends and family and neighbors," and "members of my own staff who are incredibly committed, in monogamous relationships, same-sex relationships." Obama told Roberts, "At a certain point, I've just concluded that - for me personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that - I think same-sex couples should be able to get married." Sounds a lot like Rob Portman: "I've come to the conclusion that for me personally I think this is something that we should allow people to do." It's not rocket science. Both men are careful to use the word "personally" to make it clear they're not making a political statement, but more importantly, they're emphasizing their own experiences with loved ones who are gay. This is one of the most commonly heard reasons why people change their minds on this issue. Someone close to them comes out, and the argument stops being political and becomes personal. It's all of these individual experiences that add up to the cultural shift we're seeing on this issue.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: The news this morning that Rob Portman has reversed his opposition to same-sex marriage has obviously centered around the decision-making process of the senator who was on Mitt Romney's short list for vice president. But, it's also worth noting the bravery of his 21-year-old son, Will, a Yale University student who Portman says "encouraged" him to go public with his change of heart. It can't be easy to come out publicly for anyone, but to have the courage to do it at such a young age and as a member of such a public family is extraordinary. Portman said he consulted former Vice President Dick Cheney who said "follow your heart." It's clear Will Portman took the same advice. And this morning Will tweeted a link to his father's Op-Ed in the Columbus Dispatch headlined: "Gay couples also deserve chance to get married" with the following message: "Especially proud of my dad today."
FUSION's JORDAN FABIAN: The conservative movement is still grappling with several core issues in the wake of the GOP's loss in its second-straight presidential election, and that's especially true when it comes to immigration and Hispanic outreach. Thursday's session at the Conservative Political Action Conference provided a stark view of that internal battle. On one side, Republican officials are urging the party to back comprehensive immigration reform and aggressively reach out to Hispanic voters. But on the other side, elements of the conservative movement aren't convinced those are worthy causes. CPAC sponsored a panel of speakers who spoke in favor of addressing comprehensive immigration reform. That's a goal of the host of the conference, American Conservative Union Chairman Al Cardenas, who supports legalizing undocumented immigrants. "The dynamics of the immigration debate have changed," he said in an interview. But not everyone at CPAC agrees that the party needs to dramatically change its approach. The immigration panel was interrupted by several hecklers, who scoffed at the notion the GOP should eliminate some of its harsh rhetoric on immigration. Audience members booed when Texas Gov. Rick Perry said that Republicans "are told our party must shift appeal to the growing Hispanic demographic." Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) did not mention immigration in his speech to activists even though he's helping draft a bill in the Senate. The conservative movement has come a long way on the immigration issue. Several CPAC attendees noted that the reception to a pro-immigration reform panel would have been much worse six years ago during the last immigration overhaul effort. But reformers still have a long way to go.
ABC's TOM SHINE: Consider this: A $6 trillion price tag for the Iraq war. Here's an accounting, courtesy of Brown University's Watson Institute for International Studies: Federal spending on Iraq $1.7 trillion through fiscal year 2013. Future health and disability payments for veterans, $590 Billion. Interest accrued to pay for the war, $3.9 trillion. Those astronomical amounts of money never seem to come up when Washington politicians talk about the deficit.
OBAMA CONCLUDES CHARM OFFENSIVE: WHAT NOW? After spending part of the past three days at the Capitol, the president concluded his charm offensive with a meeting with House Democrats yesterday afternoon, telling lawmakers he believes his recent outreach has been "fruitful" as he works to coax Congress out of a stalemate on deficit reduction, notes ABC's John Parkinson. Regarding future budget negotiations, the president told the caucus that he wants a "balanced approach" with "judicious cuts" in order to solve the country's long-term problems. While the president's newfound engagement has been received with a range of optimism to skepticism, House Speaker John Boehner said there are "big differences" that remain between Republicans and Democrats. And House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said he expects the top levels of Congressional leadership to continue working behind the scenes toward a bipartisan agreement in the months ahead. "If we're going to work towards solutions to the problems that confront us, it will have to be done in a bipartisan way. If it's not done in a bipartisan way, we've seen it doesn't get done," Hoyer, D-Md., said. "The way we go is to continue discussions." http://abcn.ws/WqHPCG
GAY REPUBLICANS FIND A VENUE AT CPAC. Despite not being invited, a gay Republican group found its way into conservatives' biggest annual conference, anyway, notes ABC's Chris Good. Much has been made of the Conservative Political Action Conference's (CPAC) decision not to invite GOProud, a prominent gay Republican group. Along with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, GOProud is one of the conference's two most notable absences caused by ideological differences with conference organizers. GOProud found a venue there, nonetheless. At a panel hosted by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, entitled, "A Rainbow on the Right: Growing the Coalition, Bringing Tolerance Out of the Closet," GOProud's leadership and supporters voiced their discontent with the conservative movement - before a packed, standing-room-only conference room at the Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, Md., with a bar wheeled in to serve attendees after the gay politics talk was over. "There are a few in our movement who just don't like gay people," said GOProud Executive Director Jimmy LaSalvia. "And in 2013, that's just not OK." http://abcn.ws/153xa1o
MARCO RUBIO TALKS SCIENCE, 'MUTUAL RESPECT'. Sen. Marco Rubio yesterday challenged some of the stereotypes affixed to the Republican Party on two hot-button topics, abortion and gay marriage, telling the Conservative Political Action Conference that his positions on the issues make him neither a "chauvinist" nor a "bigot," reports ABC's Arlette Saenz. "In order to work together with people you disagree with, there has to be mutual respect," the Florida Republican told the annual, three-day conference in National Harbor, Md. "That means I respect people that disagree with me on certain things, but they have to respect me, too. "Just because I believe that states should have the rights to define marriage in a traditional way does not make me a bigot. Just because we believe that life, all life, all human life is worthy of protection of every stage in its development does not make you a chauvinist." Rubio, 41, continued to argue that science was on his side when it comes to abortion, saying "the people who are actually close-minded in American politics are the people that love to preach about the certainty of science when regards to our climate but ignore the absolute fact that science is proven that life begins at conception." http://abcn.ws/WgmkWj
MICHIGAN GOP'S ANUZIS EYES SENATE SEAT. One person helping to put on CPAC this year is former Michigan state party chair, Saul Anuzis. He also helped run the Romney campaign in Michigan and now is seriously considering entering elected politics himself, telling ABC News' Shushannah Walshe and Chris Good he is taking a good look at running for the open U.S. Senate seat that will be vacated in 2014 with Sen. Carl Levin's retirement. "Michigan is in a unique situation," Anuzis said in the hallways of the Gaylord National Resort in National Harbor, Md. "Michigan is a purple seat that could turn red in the right circumstances and in an off presidential year is when we have traditionally won our seats…I think it could be a unique opportunity so I'm talking to everyone who is interested in running, I'm talking to our donors, I'm talking to our activists to see what the feel is out there. We will see who ultimately emerges, but I am looking at it myself and I will decide in the next couple of weeks if I can put together a race to make it competitive." Anuzis, who also ran unsuccessfully for RNC chair in 2009 and 2011, said the most important thing is making sure a Republican wins, whether it is him or someone else, and he's being "practical" about it. WATCH: http://abcn.ws/Z1TKDv
ALLEN WEST, 'STILL ALIVE,' TALKS GAY MARRIAGE, IMMIGRATION. ABC News' Shushannah Walshe and Chris Good caught up with former Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., at CPAC and despite his loss to Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., in November he said "2012 was great for me." "I'm still alive," West said while he was stopping to greet supporters outside of the main ballroom here. "You guys think just because you lose a congressional race doesn't mean you are dead, doesn't mean you can't continue to serve your country so to be here to be part of the opening speaking and continue to talk about our country, I'm doing fine." CPAC invited West to give the keynote speech at the conference in 2011. This year he was one of the first speakers opening up CPAC 2013, held in National Harbor, Md. As for his political future he said he is "probably not" going to make a run for his former South Florida in 2014 because "there are a lot of things I want to do," but he kept the door open for 2016. "I want to help others so we're going to launch a PAC that will help minority and military conservatives," West said. "That's my immediate focus and then we will see what God leads me to do in 2016." WATCH: http://abcn.ws/ZDyaGn
OBAMA MUSTACHE FANTASY. Bemoaning the loss of his anonymity ahead of his trip to Israel next week, the president told Israeli Channel 2 that he often wishes he could just be a regular tourist, notes ABC's Mary Bruce. "Sometimes I have this fantasy that I can put on a disguise, wear a fake mustache and I can wander through Tel Aviv and go to a bar and have a conversation," he said in an interview taped at the White House earlier this week. Obama said he misses the "spontaneous interactions" he used to have when he traveled. "I'd love to sit at a cafe and just hang out," he said. http://abcn.ws/13Z1EFP
BEING JOE BIDEN. Ever wonder what goes through Vice President Joe Biden's head? ABC's Arlette Saenz reports that the White House has just launched an audio series called "Being Biden," where the vice president will share his story of a photograph in which he appears. The first picture featured in the series is of Biden's serving rolls at a wild game dinner in Delaware earlier this month. The vice president is shaking hands with a man wearing a hunting-style shirt featuring deer in the woods as Biden carries a tong in his other hand. "Hey folks, I want to tell you about this picture you're looking at," Biden said about the picture. "These are a couple of guys in their hunting shirts that I'm serving a meal to, along with the folks you see in the back gourd and the occasion is once a year the Whitehall Neck Sportsman Club holds a dinner. "I've been attending it for over 30 years. It's called a wild game dinner and they go out and they hunt for wild game that they then cook up and serve at the Leipsic fire hall, as you see in the background and all the money goes to charity and then there's an auction and they auction off guns and bows and all that money as well goes to originally went to [defray] the costs and expenses of a buddy of theirs who was injured in a hunting accident years ago and now it goes to help people in need." http://abcn.ws/13YzHOq
@CPHeinze: Betting '16 GOP cands on same-sex marriage: "I personally oppose it, but let the states decide, and there are bigger issues to talk about."
@RealClearScott: Once a star among the CPAC set, few signs of support for Rick Perry to run in 2016: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2013/03/15/at_cpac_few_signs_of_support_for_rick_perry_in_2016_117465.html …
@kakukowski: Great read from Yahoo's @Chris_Moody about GOP building voter data sharing platform http://news.yahoo.com/blogs/ticket/republican-national-committee-build-voter-data-sharing-platform-090301874-election.html …