By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
THE ROUNDTABL E
ABC's RICK KLEIN: A deal is a deal, and the NRA is on record not liking what this one looks like. But should the gun-rights lobby actually be disappointed? Will its army make its displeasure known? The Joe Manchin-Pat Toomey agreement to require background checks for gun-show and online sales may end up being the first anti-gun measure to pass Congress in two decades. But what it would mean for actual gun sales, much less preventing gun violence, is far less clear. Numbers are murky and outdated when it comes to how many sales we're even talking about, and keep in mind the NRA itself used to support expanded background checks, in the way-back 1990s. We think we know gun-control advocates will celebrate this, and we think we know the other side will bemoan the development. But the reality, as with everything on guns, is more complicated.
ABC's Z. BYRON WOLF: Caveat of the day - when is a deal the real thing? Two sets of bipartisan negotiators behind closed doors could announce agreement on high-profile legislative outlines over the next week. Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey have scheduled a press conference this morning on their gun talks. The bipartisan Gang of Eight has designs on announcing a new immigration deal over the next week and then letting it breathe in the senate all summer. Deals and agreements between senators sound nice, but the distance between an initial deal and the president's pen can be long and tortured. Just ask immigration dealers circa 2006 and 2007. There's no doubt announcement of bipartisan agreement is good news for any legislation. But until something has a path onto the floor of the House, it is just another small step in the process.
ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: Try as they might, Republican Party leaders can't seem to catch a break. They are holding a three-day gathering in Los Angeles this week, in part to discuss the recommendations in the party's 2012 "autopsy" report (the RNC prefers to call It by its official name, the "Growth and Opportunity Project"). But even as they meet in a city that's a magnet for immigrants at a key moment for immigration reform, some conservative leaders in the party (see, for example, former senator and current Heritage Foundation President Jim DeMint) are balking at the way the legislation is being drafted in Congress. And although the GOP's post-election report called for greater outreach to the gay community, at least one RNC committeeman plans to introduce a resolution doubling down on the party's platform, which supports traditional marriage. And even though Republicans are hoping for a semblance of unity this week, some elements within the party are gunning for a fight over a set of controversial rules that were passed at the national convention in Tampa last summer. Will Republicans be able to keep their spring meeting neat and tidy or will it turn into the wild, wild West?
ABC's TOM SHINE: Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley hasn't even signed the tough, new gun bill just passed by his state's lawmakers. But already, the National Rifle Association is striking back with its President David Keene telling WTOP radio, "We are already in court in New York, and we will be in court and aiding those in Maryland … and I am myself a Maryland resident who wants to challenge the constitutionality of this and other provisions in Maryland." The Baltimore Sun says another pro-gun group is weighing whether to collect the 55,736 signatures needed to get the gun bill on the Maryland November 2014 ballot as a referendum. All of these actions could delay the new bill from taking effect on October 1.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: The leaked Mitch McConnell recordings are a real political mystery, but who wins? At the Senate Minority Leader's press conference yesterday he called the recording "a Nixonian move." He didn't answer whether it was appropriate to go after an opponent's mental health or religion, preferring instead to vilify the "political left." If he is able to keep this narrative afloat - that he is the victim of a Watergate-style plot - does he emerge as the victor? Of course, now the Democrats are in possession of the McConnell playbook. Can they successfully seize on the tactics discussed? Yes, McConnell's team was going to play nasty with Judd, but everyone already knew that. It's one of the reasons why in the end she decided to take a pass this time around, but how about what was discussed about the woman most likely to enter the race: Alison Lundergan Grimes? Turns out, there wasn't much there. She's a Democrat who supports Obama (no surprise) and she sometimes speaks about herself in the third person (maybe it's odd, but even that's a stretch). It will be interesting to see how it plays out and especially how the investigation unfolds.
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
GUESS WHO'S NOT COMING TO DINNER? SEN. BERNIE SANDERS. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) doesn't like what President Obama's budget could do to Social Security benefits. And he's not that happy that the White House is hosting a dozen Republican Senators for dinner tonight - while progressives' invitations appear to have been lost in the mail. Asked whether Obama ought to reach out more to liberals, including those like Sanders who are eager to chew up his budget, the senator joked: "Am I anxious to get a good free dinner? Absolutely, I am always open for a good free dinner." But "that invitation has not been offered," Sanders told Top Line in an interview on Pennsylvania Avenue just outside the White House gates. "He hasn't reached out to me, to the best of my knowledge, he hasn't reached out to progressives, and that is disappointing." To hear more of Sen. Sanders' take on where the president has gone wrong with the budget, check out this episode of Top Line with ABC's RICK KLEIN and Yahoo! News' OLIVIER KNOX: http://yhoo.it/10ROyFn
OBAMA TO RELEASE BUDGET PROPOSAL. President Obama will finally release his 2014 budget this morning, outlining a "balanced" plan that the administration hopes will attract bipartisan support, reports ABC's MARY BRUCE. "We believe that what the budget helps do is break the false choice between deficits and job creation," according to a senior administration official. The White House claims the president's budget would reduce the deficit by an additional $1.8 trillion over the next ten years, bringing total deficit reduction to $4.3 trillion. While we do not yet know the total spending, the budget includes many of the proposals outlined in the president's State of the Union address, including $50 billion in infrastructure investments, $1 billion for manufacturing innovation institutes, a "Preschool for All" initiative financed by raising the federal tax on cigarettes, and raising the minimum wage to $9 an hour. All of the new investments are fully paid for and offset, according to an administration official, and the budget would reduce the deficit to 2.8 percent of GDP by 2016.
-ON THE HILL: ABC's JOHN PARKINSON notes that House Speaker John Boehner will participate in a GOP leadership news conference morning where he will react to the president's budget proposal. Previously the Speaker had already rejected President Obama's blueprint when details began to leak because it reportedly includes tax increases on the wealthy. Expect more of the same from Boehner this morning.
THE MCCONNELL FILES: SECRETS, LAWS AND AUDIO TAPE. Sen. Mitch McConnell was prepared to go after Ashley Judd as "emotionally unbalanced," according to secret audio tapes of the Republican's strategy session. But, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports that the release of those tapes have prompted an FBI investigation into who may have bugged the senator's office, his campaign said yesterday. The Senate Minority Leader described the tactics used against him to reporters at the Capitol Tuesday as "quite a Nixonian move." "This is what you get from the political left in America," McConnell said. "Much like Nixon in Watergate, that is what the political left does these days." McConnell's office said the FBI is investigating how the senator's campaign office was bugged and who gave the tapes to Mother Jones magazine. The tape of the Feb. 2 strategy session recorded McConnell and his aides devising tactics for discrediting actress Ashley Judd who at the time was widely expected to enter the U.S. Senate race to take on McConnell. She has since decided not to run for office. But while Judd was mulling the race, McConnell's staff was strategizing that the best way to hurt her candidacy would be to highlight her past struggles with depression and her religious views, according to the tapes. http://abcn.ws/10SKTWg WATCH ABC's JIM AVILA's "World News" report on the McConnell tapes: http://abcn.ws/YJYQta
-ASHLEY JUDD WEIGHS IN: Judd's office released a statement decrying what it called the "politics of personal destruction that embody Mitch McConnell." "We expected nothing less from Mitch McConnell and his camp than to take a personal struggle such as depression, which many Americans cope with on a daily basis, and turn it into a laughing matter," the statement said.
-WAS MCCONNELL'S SENATE STAFF DIGGING UP DIRT? Along with the mystery surrounding who secretly recorded Mitch McConnell is another issue the tapes raise: the possibility that the Kentucky senator's legislative staff was helping dig up dirt on Ashley Judd and other potential opponents. Democrats are seizing on it, but it's still unclear whether McConnell's staff did anything wrong. In the recording, an aide doing the presentation thanks a group of people: "So I'll just preface my comments that this reflects the work of a lot of folks: Josh, Jesse, Phil Maxson, a lot of LAs, thank them three times, so this is a compilation of work, all the way through. "Jesse" may refer to Jesse Benton, McConnell's campaign manager, but the word "LA" probably refers to Legislative Aides or Legislative Assistants, people who work in his senate office. Two other possible Senate staffers are Phillip Maxson, who is listed on the National Journal Almanac as Legislative Assistant, Projects Director, and "Josh," which may refer to Josh Holmes, McConnell's Senate chief of staff. It's common and legal for senate staffers to work on a campaign, but only if they take vacation time when they are working on the campaign and are volunteering. In a statement, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee criticized "McConnell's use of taxpayer-funded legislative aides to do opposition research for his reelection campaign." Larry Noble, the head of Americans for Campaign Reform, said the work can just not be done "on Senate time." "If they are referring to Senate staff working on this, the question is: Were they working on opposition research for the campaign while they were on the Senate payroll, while they were being paid by the Senate?" Noble said. McConnell's Senate staff would not comment, instead directing all questions to the campaign. McConnell's campaign manager also declined to comment. http://abcn.ws/17pAR5F
-MCCONNELL CAMPAIGN LOOKS FOR 'A NEEDLE IN A HAYSTACK' AGAINST POTENTIAL CHALLENGER. The big news yesterday was the "wealth of material" McConnell's campaign aides dug up - and might well have used - against Ashley Judd. But an important footnote is the comparatively meager body of opposition research McConnell staffers gathered on the Kentucky politician who now appears most likely to challenge the Senate Majority Leader - Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE and SHUSHANNAH WALSHE note. In fact, the aide leading the secretly-taped strategy session suggested researchers were struggling to find ammunition with which to attack Grimes, comparing finding dirt on her to searching for "needle in a haystack." "The best hit we have on her is her blatantly endorsing the 2008 Democratic national platform," the aide said during the Feb. 2 meeting at McConnell campaign headquarters. McConnell's campaign team was evidently planning to link her to the 2008 platform, which she supported, as well as President Obama, who she publicly backed in 2012. McConnell's team also appeared interested in Grimes's quirks. "If you see a lot of footage of her, she definitely has a very sort of self-centered, sort of egotistical aspect," one aide said. "She's very sort of a, sort of it's all about her, the theme that I would call this. And this is sort of an example about this. She uses her, like in speeches, she'll frequently use herself in the third person." Dale Emmons, a Kentucky Democratic operative and adviser to Grimes, said the early glimpse at the McConnell campaign's playbook should do nothing to discourage her from entering the race. "If this is how small his thinking is, if this is how they begin their campaign planning, it should tell us a whole lot," Emmons told ABC News. http://abcn.ws/12GVqqp
SEQUESTRATION CUTS BLUE ANGELS SHOWS, AIR COMBAT COMMAND. The troupe that contains some of the Navy's finest fliers will be spending less time in the air and more time grounded for the next six to seven months, thanks to Washington's budget fight, ABC's SARAH PARNASS reports. The flight demonstration team canceled all shows for the rest of the 2013 season Tuesday morning, citing sequester cuts. On the same day, the U.S. Air Force announced it was grounding about one-third of its combat command - cutting about 45,000 flying hours from training time - which Air Combat Command Cmdr. Gen. Mike Hostage said could hurt readiness in an emergency situation. Both cuts come after a slew of warnings from military leaders on the hardships sequestration has imposed on their branches. The Navy had warned at the onset of sequestration that budget cuts could mean the end of the Blue Angels' performances, at least temporarily. Now the team has been relegated to its home base in Pensacola, Fla., for the remainder of the season - until October or November, according to Blue Angels Cmdr. Tom Frosch. The cancellation comes as part of a new Defense Department policy that forbids it from using government money to fund outreach events. http://abcn.ws/14VlLF2
OBAMA'S MOVING MOMENT WITH SISTER OF NEWTOWN VICTIM. President Obama offered a lift Monday to the families of those slain in the Newtown massacre last year, ABC's MARY BRUCE notes. After the president delivered a passionate and urgent plea in Hartford, Conn., for lawmakers to overhaul the nation's gun laws, 11 Newtown families rode with him aboard Air Force One to Washington, where they are lobbying Congress to act. As they disembarked at Andrews Air Force Base, the president wrapped his arm around Jillian Soto, whose 27-year-old sister, Vicki Soto, was a teacher killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School. PHOTO: http://abcn.ws/10UaLDH
@daveweigel: I don't even think what Weiner did was that bad, but why does he need a "comeback"? Politics is about service, not self-actualization.
@ktumulty: If a fire hydrant has a sign that says "out of service," can you park in front of it?