By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's RICK KLEIN: They can call it the first round, but knockouts can happen then, too. President Obama's bitter disappointment and anger over the stalling of gun legislation won't change the political facts that hardened in the Senate this week. The weight of public opinion, of emotional pleas from victims and their families, of an ad campaign that could compete with the NRA, and even of an unlikely bipartisan compromise to rally behind didn't change the fact that gun control is a motivating - and voting - issue only on one side of the debate. Yes, the overwhelming majority of the country wants expanded background checks. But no, they're not inclined to vote lawmakers out of office over it - and certainly not with the fervor that those who oppose a move like that are committed to doing so. It's hard to see a public backlash on the order of what would be needed to flip the Democratic "no" votes, not to mention the Republicans they'd still need to top 60 in the Senate. What the president and the families couldn't admit yesterday is that there's close to a zero chance of the forces aligning the way they did last week and into this week; of course, even that was not enough to change the rigid politics of gun control.
ABC's JEFF ZELENY: President Obama's rhetoric was tough - nearly as raw and tough as I've seen in more than a decade of watching him - but will his Organizing For Action now show its muscle? The gun issue is the biggest test yet for OFA, his multi-million dollar post-campaign organization that pledges to be bipartisan. Will it punish the four Democrats who opposed the background check bill and find candidates to mount primary challenges against three of them in 2014? No, likely not. Will it stand up for - or, at least, remain neutral - for the four Republicans who supported it? Again, likely not. Maybe OFA will surprise us. Or maybe not.
ABC's TOM SHINE: On December 18, 2012, just four days after Newtown, Alaska democratic Sen. Mark Begich talked to reporter Richard Mauer of the Anchorage Daily News. He told Mauer, "I'm going to be one of the more cautious ones about doing anything on new gun laws, but I'm not going to say we can't have this discussion." Begich also told the reporter he "wouldn't shy away" from challenging the National Rifle Association. "I think there's a sea change," he told the paper. Last week Begich, was one of two Democrats who voted for a Republican filibuster to prevent discussion of expanded gun background checks and yesterday, he was one of four democrats who voted with the NRA to kill them.
WHAT WE'RE READING
"DEMOCRATS SEARCH FOR NEXT MOVE AFTER MAJOR GUN DEFEAT," by the National Journal's Shane Goldmacher . "Of the Senate's 55 Democrats and allied independents, only four voted against the gun-control measure: Sens. Max Baucus of Montana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, and Mark Pryor of Arkansas. Each of them hails from a state carried by Mitt Romney last year, and all but Heitkamp are up for reelection in 2014. (Reid also voted no in the final tally, but only for procedural reasons in order to more easily bring the bill up later.) One liberal group, the Courage Campaign, asked its activist members on Wednesday to cut off all support to Democratic senators who voted against expanded background checks. 'The NRA can play hardball - but so can you. We're the activists, the Democratic base. We're the people who donate in elections, knock on doors, and get out the vote in tight elections,' the group said in an e-mail to its members. Another group, the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, committed to an ad campaign targeting Baucus, Begich, Heitkamp, and Pryor. … What became clear Wednesday evening is that any momentum the gun-control movement had had in the wake of the Newtown tragedy had been stalled. Democrats remain heartened that the public overwhelmingly agrees with them on the issue of background checks. But they acknowledged that hopes for swift action have devolved into a longer legislative slog." http://bit.ly/1156z2Q
OBAMA DINES WITH SENATE DEMOCRATS. After a tough day following the failed gun control vote in the Senate, President Obama met 12 Democratic senators for dinner a few blocks away from the White House at Washington's Jefferson Hotel last night. ABC's BETSY KLEIN reports that the group discussed the economy, gun control and the Boston Marathon bombings for two hours. Obama told the senators he would continue to fight to reduce gun violence, following today's failed background check proposal, which was defeated 54 to 46 in the Senate. The president also said he had confidence in the FBI-led investigation of the Boston Marathon. Senators Michael Bennet of Colorado, Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, and Mark Warner of Virginia were spotted enjoying beverages on an outdoor patio following the meal. When asked about the meeting, White House gave reporters the "thumbs-up," saying, "Two thumbs up, very well." Asked to elaborate further, Bennet added, "We talked about not talking about it." The White House has also held dinners with Republicans in recent months, part of an effort to expand communications with lawmakers. http://abcn.ws/17IBQ0K
GOP BACKS AWAY FROM MARK SANFORD. Mark Sanford today lost significant support from national Republicans, shortly after his former wife's trespass allegations became public, ABC's CHRIS GOOD reports. Attempting a comeback after the affair scandal that derailed his South Carolina governorship in 2011, Sanford is now running for the Charleston-area House seat he represented in the 1990s. From now on, however, he'll have to do it without funding from the National Republican Congressional Committee. "Mark Sanford has proven he knows what it takes to win elections. At this time, the NRCC will not be engaged in this special election," NRCC spokeswoman Andrea Bozek told ABC News. The NRCC gave no reason for the decision, which comes after the trespassing allegations surfaced today. Sanford's former wife, Jenny, said she found him leaving her house Feb. 3 through the back door, using his cellphone as a flashlight, according to court documents obtained today. Jenny Sanford's lawyer filed a complaint with a Charleston County family court, and a judge ordered the former governor to appear at a hearing and explain why he entered the house without his former wife's permission, in apparent violation of their divorce agreement. The hearing is set for May 9, two days after Sanford's election against Democrat Elizabeth Colbert Busch. The recent allegation followed another, in February 2011, that Sanford had "repeatedly" entered his former wife's house without permission, according to a letter from Jenny Sanford's attorney to Mark Sanford. http://abcn.ws/15mTGak
SANFORD'S STATEMENT: Sanford he was only there this year to watch the Super Bowl with one of his sons. "It's an unfortunate reality that divorced couples sometimes have disagreements that spill over into family court," he said in a statement today provided to ABC News. "I did indeed watch the second half of the Super Bowl at the beach house with our 14-year-old son because as a father I didn't think he should watch it alone. "Given she was out of town I tried to reach her beforehand to tell her of the situation that had arisen, and met her at the back steps under the light of my cellphone when she returned and told her what had happened," he added.
HAGEL, DEMPSEY WARN OF INVOLVEMENT IN SYRIA. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey both warned Congress on Wednesday about the unintended consequences of a U.S. military intervention in Syria, ABC's LUIS MARTINEZ notes. Hagel also provided the first details of the Pentagon's efforts in assisting Jordan's military for the possibility of having to secure Syria's chemical weapons stockpile, including $70 million worth of training and equipment. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee both Hagel and Dempsey cautioned that a U.S. military intervention in Syria could have unintended consequences and should be reserved as a "last resort." Two years of fighting to bring down the regime of Syrian President Basher al Assad have killed an estimated 70,000 Syrians and created a million refugees. Both Democratic and Republican senators on the committee have advocated the Obama administration consider some form of U.S. military assistance to assist the Syrian opposition in the form of a no-fly zone or the establishment of a humanitarian aid corridor. "We have an obligation and responsibility to think through the consequences of direct U.S. military action in Syria," said Hagel. He added that "military intervention at this point could hinder humanitarian relief operations. It could embroil the United States in a significant, lengthy, and uncertain military commitment." http://abcn.ws/11gfiAZ
MATT DOWD: DO AMERICANS CRAVE JUSTICE OR REVENGE? What is strength? How does one define standing tall and strong in life? Why do we often confuse patience, kindness and gentleness with weakness? Many of these questions come to mind as I watch the horrific scene in Boston in the aftermath of the horrible bombings. The same feelings came to mind in the midst of the fallout of tragedy in Newtown at Sandy Hook Elementary. As anger justifiably rises and a demand for justice is called for, the question surfaces, Where does this end? The line between justice and vengeance is a very thin one. In the aftermath of 9/11 we all wanted justice, but at some point vengeance seemed to take over and it blinded many to the reality of decisions about going into the Iraq War. We ended up spending more than a trillion dollars and, far worse , thousands of lives were lost or forever changed. None of us feel safer or closer to a world where all people respect the rights and freedoms of each other. We believe it is strength to fight on behalf of innocents and to do whatever we can to track down the awful perpetrators of acts of violence like what happened at the Boston marathon. And it is. But at what point do we celebrate and encourage revenge instead of justice? Is it strength to allow all emotions to take control and erupt in a variety of different ways or is strength defined in calm and a more measured, gentle way? http://abcn.ws/11vZVEc
JOHN KERRY DOESN'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT BENGHAZI. John Kerry is sick of allegations that the administration lied about Benghazi. Pressed for more information about the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in September 2012, the still-new Secretary of State told Republican lawmakers at a House Foreign Affairs Committee hearing yesterday that he's happy to provide them any information they need, and that the State Department has already provided them with quite a bit, ABC's CHRIS GOOD notes. His overriding point: Let's move on. "Let's get this done with, folks," Kerry said at the hearing. "I don't think anybody lied to anybody." At a hearing about the White House's FY2013 budget request, GOP lawmakers alleged-as they have repeatedly since the administration's initial response to the Benghazi attacks-that U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice misled the public about the attack, and that former secretary Hillary Clinton failed to adequately explain the attacks and the administration's response. http://abcn.ws/12n9fM1
@dcbigjohn: ICYMI figure under FBI investigation in McConnell wiretap case met w/White House in December http://www.buzzfeed.com/johnstanton/alleged-mcconnell-bugger-visited-white-house?s=mobile …
@matthewjdowd: Top of Thursday! Is there really a reality beyond this moment right now? And thus, how important is it to make this moment full and fabulous?