By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
THIS WEEK ON 'THIS WEEK': As tensions between the U.S. and Russia reach a breaking point over Edward Snowden's asylum, GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS speaks to Snowden's father Lonnie Snowden, in an ABC News exclusive this Sunday. Then, the chairs of the Senate and House Foreign Relations committees, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., and Rep. Ed Royce, R-Calif., debate how the U.S. should respond to Russia's actions as well as the latest terrorism threat. Plus, as potential 2016 candidates start trekking to Iowa, we go one-on-one with Donald Trump on his weekend visit to the Hawkeye State. And the powerhouse roundtable debates all the week's politics, with Rep. Joaquín Castro, D-Texas, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, and ABC News' George Will and Donna Brazile. Plus, our special media panel takes on the sale of The Washington Post, with George Will, The Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington, Bloomberg TV's Cory Johnson, and The New Yorker's David Remnick. Be sure to use #ThisWeek when you tweet about the program. Tune in Sunday: http://abcnews.go.com/thisweek
ABC's RICK KLEIN: This stinks for Mitch McConnell. The tea party, both nationally and in Kentucky, already had plenty of reasons to be wary of McConnell. And that was before his campaign manager - the one brought aboard to unite the Paul brand with McConnell's -allowed that he's "holding my nose" in working for the Senate minority leader in his reelection race. Setting aside the McConnell campaign's mystifyingly terrible luck in having private conversations secretly recorded, this is trouble for a candidate who's already being pressed both on his left and his right. Long before next year's primary - the one that features a tea party challenger, of course - is this year's decision on how hard to press the case against Obamacare, specifically whether that's worth risking a government shutdown. The whiff of tea will linger over everything McConnell, and therefore the Senate, does over the next year.
ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: Riding around Iowa with Rick Santorum more than a year-and-a-half since the state's 2012 presidential caucuses (a contest that he belatedly won) it's clear that he relishes being back on the campaign trail. Not the he's actually campaigning for anything. As he said last night before speaking at a Republican Party dinner in the state's far northwest corner, he won't be making any big announcements about a possible future presidential bid during his three-day trip to the state this week. "I wouldn't do anything until after the 2014 election," Santorum acknowledged. But that didn't stop him from embarking on a 17-hour, 430-mile day of events. This was a homecoming of sorts for Santorum who spent more days campaigning here in 2011 and 2012 than any of his Republican opponents. "I know the folks here and they know me," he said. And in a place where voters expect to meet the candidates who might eventually find their way into the White House three or four times, that's no small thing. By the time he took the stage at a county GOP dinner in Rock Rapids, Iowa - 12 hours into his marathon day - he told the crowd: "I've had this big smile on my face I just can't get rid of."
ABC's DANA HUGHES: While President Obama will skip the meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow during the G20 this month, relations between Washington and the Kremlin haven't grown completely cold. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel will welcome their Russian counterparts in Washington today for a long-planned "2+2? summit. On the agenda? Issues the two countries cooperate on such as Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran. But the State Department says Kerry and Hagel will not be afraid to talk about the more contentious issues the former Cold War enemies have disagreements on too: the START Treaty, Russia's record on human rights, and of course the decision to grant temporary asylum to NSA-leaker, and wanted fugitive Edward Snowden. The meeting will happen at the State Department and run for about four hours.
HAPPENING TODAY - A PRESIDENTIAL PRESS CONFERENCE: President Obama signs the student loan bill this afternoon in the Oval Office. Later on he will field questions from the White House press in a news conference in the East Room. This is the president's first solo White House press conference since April and the second of his second term. He will also meet privately with Secretary of State John Kerry.
IN MCAULIFFE'S FORMER CAR COMPANY, ECHOES OF ROMNEY AND BAIN. Remember the Democrats' withering attacks on Mitt Romney for his business dealings in China and holdings in the Caribbean? The tables have turned, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and CHRIS GOOD note. Virginia gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe faces attacks from Republicans over his former leadership of an electric car company called GreenTech Automotive, which originally sought to establish its manufacturing base in Virginia but later landed in Tunica, Miss. The Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating GreenTech, and Republicans have pounced on McAuliffe for seeking out Chinese investors, lobbing charges of potential national security risks at the Democrat. The SEC inquiry centers around GreenTech's use of a U.S. visa program commonly known as EB-5, which provides visas to foreign investors who invest more than $500,000 in American companies. On Thursday, the conservative opposition-research super PAC America Rising requested that McAuliffe and Charles Wang, current CEO of GreenTech, release all records and documents the company gave to federal investigators. McAuliffe left GreenTech in December 2012 and in a statement this week said he "has no knowledge of any investigation" and if "there are concerns as to whether procedures were properly followed, those concerns should be examined and I'm glad the company said it is cooperating fully." http://abcn.ws/14bUgBS
DATE NIGHT FOR THE OBAMAS. President Obama and the first lady celebrated the president's birthday with an intimate dinner for two last night, ABC's MARY BRUCE reports. The Obamas dines at Rasika, a posh Indian restaurant in DC's West End. Like most of their restaurant outings, tonight's private dinner was kept off the record until the Obamas arrived at the restaurant. Once word got out, a large crowd of people eager to catch a glimpse of the president and first lady gathered across the street from the restaurant Mrs. Obama got dressed up for dinner. Leaving the White House earlier, she was spotted wearing a knee-length, backless black dress. The president was dressed in his usual suit. http://abcn.ws/1ew5Sph
MCCONNELL CAMPAIGN MANAGER: I'M 'HOLDING MY NOSE. "Holding my nose": That's how Mitch McConnell campaign manager Jesse Benton described running the Senate minority leader's re-election campaign in a phone recording obtained by both the Economic Policy Journal and The Iowa Republican websites, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE notes. In the recording made by conservative activist Dennis Fusaro in January 2013, and released Thursday, Benton tells Fusaro, "Between you and me, I'm sort of holding my nose for two years, 'cause what we're doing here is going to be a big benefit to Rand in '16 so. That's my long vision," Benton says, referring to Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and his possible presidential aspirations in 2016. Fusaro, vice president for development at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Washington D.C., confirmed to ABC News that he did record the conversation without Benton's knowledge, but said it is legal because both he and Benton were in "one-party consent" states where only one person on the phone must consent to a phone conversation being recorded. Benton served as Ron Paul's spokesman during both his 2008 and his 2012 presidential campaigns. The McConnell campaign's press secretary, Allison Moore, sent a statement from Benton that said, "It is truly sick that someone would record a private phone conversation I had out of kindness and use it to try to hurt me. I believe in Senator McConnell and am 100 percent committed to his re-election. Being selected to lead his campaign is one of the great honors of my life and I look forward to victory in November of 2014." http://abcn.ws/1evFhbG
OBAMA TO HONOR OPRAH, BILL CLINTON, ERNIE BANKS WITH MEDAL OF FREEDOM. What do former President Bill Clinton, Oprah Winfrey and baseball great Ernie Banks have in common? They are among the 16 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom that President Obama will honor at the White House later this year, ABC's MARY BRUCE notes."The Presidential Medal of Freedom goes to men and women who have dedicated their own lives to enriching ours," the president said in a written statement. "This year's honorees have been blessed with extraordinary talent, but what sets them apart is their gift for sharing that talent with the world." Fifty years ago, President John F. Kennedy established the Medal of Freedom as the nation's highest civilian honor. Since then, more than 500 people have been recognized with the award for their contributions to all corners of society. This year's recipients include musicians, athletes, journalists, lawmakers, advocates and scientists. Obama will honor the Washington Post's former executive editor, Ben Bradlee, who oversaw the newspaper's coverage of Watergate and the end of the Nixon presidency, former University of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith, feminist pioneer and political activist Gloria Steinem, and Sally Ride, the first American female astronaut to travel to space, among others. http://abcn.ws/19QGlcz
ANTI-HILLARY PAC GETS BACKLASH ON 'SLAP HILLARY.' Pro-Hillary Clinton forces accused one anti-Hillary Clinton group of going too far this week, ABC's JOAN E. GREVE notes. The Ready for Hillary PAC, organized to pave the way for the former secretary of state's possible 2016 presidential run, fired back at the Hillary Project's "Slap Hillary" game in an email to supporters on Wednesday night. "We've seen these so-called 'Stop Hillary' super PACs attack Hillary before, but this is a new low," wrote Adam Parkhomenko, Ready for Hillary's executive director, in the email. The game, "created and produced by the SlapHillary Team," according to the Hillary Project's website, allows players to wind up and slap an animated Hillary Clinton across the face. The group identifies itself as "a nonprofit, nonpartisan, advocacy committee with a single goal - wage a war on Hillary Clinton's image by exposing her past and analyzing her would-be presidency for the public and national political press corps." http://abcn.ws/148H14S
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
FORMER HOMELAND SECURITY SECRETARY ON AL QAEDA 2.0. Former Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff says the idea that al Qaeda has been "eliminated" is "overly optimistic." As U.S. embassies across the Middle East and North Africa remain shuttered following intelligence of possible terrorist attacks, Chertoff tells "On the Radar's" MARTHA RADDATZ that the most pressing threat seems to be posed by Yemen, which he says has the most active al Qaeda-affiliated network. "Although they're looking at a broad geographic area as potentially a target that most of this really is centered on Yemen," Chertoff says, when asked about the State Department's recent evacuation of all non-emergency staff from that country. "Not surprisingly, the core al Qaeda, while it may be concerned for its safety, is still functioning," Chertoff says. "We saw that with some of what emerged when Bin Laden was killed and they took some of that material out of Abbottabad [Pakistan]. We may have forced them to disperse but I still think the network continues to operate." WATCH: http://yhoo.it/1ex7S0r
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
CHRIS CHRISTIE STILL POPULAR AMONG DEMOCRATIC VOTERS. According to the latest Quinnipiac University poll, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie owes some of his popularity on the gubernatorial campaign trail to Democratic voters, ABC's ALISA WIERSEMA writes. The latest numbers from the independent poll show that even strongly Democratic areas of New Jersey remain closely divided between the incumbent Republican governor and his Democratic opponent, State Sen. Barbara Buono. In these areas, Buono just barely leads Christie with a 43 to 42 percent approval rating. Christie dominates every other area of the state, including the Jersey Shore, where his approval is 67 percent to Buono's 27, as well as in suburban areas, where the Republican polls at 56 percent against 33 percent for the Republican. "The big election is still the race between Gov. Christopher Christie and State Sen. Barbara Buono, and the governor's 2-1 lead remains undented after months of polling," Maurice Carroll, director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said in a statement. http://abcn.ws/1cg2Auh
WHAT WE'RE READING
"THE WAR ON WOMEN VS THE WAR FOR WOMEN," by the Cook Political Report's Amy Walter. "National Republicans have launched the latest salvo in the gender gap wars. Using the Anthony Weiner/Bob Filner scandals as ammunition, Republican groups have been carpet-bombing my email box daily. … Chiding Democrats for nationalizing Todd Akin in 2012 while downplaying their own boorish members in 2013, the GOP is eager to expose national Democrats as hypocrites who, 'only pretend to care about women when it's politically advantageous.' … But, Democratic sexting/harassing scandals aren't going to bring women voters back to the GOP. Republicans have to decide if they would rather win the 'war on women' or win women voters. Republicans didn't lose the women's vote in 2012 because of Todd Akin. Many on the right believe that the 'lamestream' media helped to drive a wedge between the GOP and female voters by spending an inordinate time on outrageous statements made by GOP candidates like Akin and Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock. In reality, however, the lack of attention to the issues that motivate and engage women voters is what ultimately cost the GOP female votes. Back in the 2012 campaign, I spent a lot of time in focus groups with swing female voters. These women were much more concerned with how to put food on the table or afford to take their kids to the doctor than they were about 'legitimate rape' or 'binders full of women.'" http://cookpolitical.com/story/6066
@GlennThrush: Thing people forget in writing off Christie in primaries is power of candidates to SHAPE electorate ala Obama via targeting, turnout
@thehill: Christie signs gun control laws, seeks to balance appeal to base, NJ: http://thehill.com/blogs/ballot-box/governor-races/316291-christie-walks-a-fine-line- …