By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Is this how a president votes "present?" A battle is raging inside the Senate over how to handle military sexual assault investigations, an issue President Obama himself has said "goes to the heart and the core of who we are and how effective we're going to be" as a military. And with the final vote pending, the commander-in-chief is … silent on the subject. White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says he isn't commenting on "potential amendments," as if the administration is unaware or indifferent on the subject of the alternate proposals being passionately advocated for by two prominent Democratic female senators, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Sen. Claire McCaskill. It may be that the president wants to handle his military commanders, who don't want such cases taken out of the chain of command, with extreme care. But we have a civilian heading the military for a reason, and this one happens to be a former Democratic senator. Is it plausible to think the president is agnostic on this subject, and outsource a tough decision involving the military to Congress?
ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: It's no secret that the Florida governor's race is going to be one of the most closely watched - and viciously fought - contests in the country during the midterm election season. And a new poll out today from Quinnipiac University shows why: Gov. Rick Scott, the Republican incumbent, is trailing behind the state's former governor and party switcher Charlie Crist, 47 to 40 percent. Crist's lead has actually narrowed by three percentage points over the last few months, and it's clear this is going to be a roller coaster of a race, not to mention an expensive one. "Crist still does better among Democrats than Scott does among Republicans and holds his own among independents," notes Quinnipiac pollster Peter Brown. "The winner will be the one who does best among his own partisans and carries independents."
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: The Republican Governors Association meeting this week in Scottsdale, Arizona is all about two things: re-branding and separating themselves from the tarnished image of Republicans in Washington. On Wednesday, Gov. John Kasich of Ohio at first chose not to directly criticize members of Congress in his party regarding last month's shutdown, saying Speaker John Boehner is "trying the best to lead the party." "There are factions within the party that make it difficult for him," Kasich said at a press conference. "Do I blame Boehner? No, Boehner is doing the best he can." But, when asked to differentiate the government shutdown in the 1990s, when he was in Congress, to the recent one, he directly critiqued the strategy of tying the defunding of the Affordable Care Act to the funding of the government. "When you don't control the White House or the U.S. Senate, you are not going to kill the administration's major policy objective. So the strategy of shutting it down with the hope they would get something, the answer to that was no," Kasich said, adding, "In the days when we would fight, you never poisoned the well." "It's like they've poisoned all the wells in Washington and that's the difference between … the great result we got when I was there and what's happened here," Kasich said. The gathered governors also pledged they would be better messengers at showing they "care" and connecting to the "heart of America." They are hoping a party hurt by the shutdown won't rub off on them in 2014 and especially 2016. http://abcn.ws/I4g92J
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
THE KENNEDY LEGACY FOR THE SECRET SERVICE 50 YEARS LATER: 'WE FAILED'. The assassination of President John F. Kennedy still haunts the U.S. Secret Service 50 years on. "Quite obviously, we failed," Secret Service deputy director A.T. Smith told ABC's DEVIN DWYER during an exclusive interview this week inside the agency's headquarters, located a few blocks from the White House. "At the time, it seemed like we had done all that we could do. But in the end, we didn't do enough because we did lose a president, and that is not what coincides with our protective mission," Smith said. While the agency has had a near-perfect record of presidential protection since 1963, Smith said the Kennedy anniversary remains a "significant," if uncomfortable, moment for reflection every year. Since Kennedy's time, the Secret Service has undergone dramatic changes, some prompted by the Warren Commission Report, others by Congress. The agency has added counter-sniper units, intelligence analysts, assault teams and a technical security division to address threats from explosive devices. http://yhoo.it/1bF0bDx
FLORIDA REP. TREY RADEL TO TAKE LEAVE OF ABSENCE AFTER COCAINE CHARGE. Florida Republican congressman Trey Radel said he would take a leave of absence from Congress and donate his salary to charity after he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of cocaine possession, ABC's MIKE LEVINE and MARYALICE PARKS report. "I'm owning up to my actions. I'm taking responsibility. I'm taking it very publicly," Radel told reporters at a news conference Wednesday night from his Cape Coral, Fla., office. Radel acknowledged that he had let down his country, his family and southwest Florida residents. "I'm struggling with this disease, but I know that I can overcome it," he added. Earlier in the day, Radel appeared in a Washington, D.C. court and was placed on one year's probation with "minimal supervision." The freshman congressman also admitted to being an addict. "I've been dealing with this on and off for years. The most important thing is to rely on professionals," Radel told reporters. Radel, 37, plans to start "intensive inpatient treatment" immediately. In the meantime, the congressman said he would donate his salary to charity, but his offices would stay open. He gave no indication he was going to resign. "I will be taking a leave of absence and all offices, this team that I have in Washington and here in southwest Florida, will be working every single day like they have been for this past year for you. They are working hard. They are here to serve the people and they will continue to do so," he said. http://abcn.ws/1fXbueF
WHITE HOUSE FEARED OBAMACARE 'SYSTEM IS DOWN' WARNING DAYS BEFORE LAUNCH. Email messages released yesterday by Republican congressional investigators reveal that at least five days before the launch of HealthCare.gov, the White House apparently "feared" negative publicity from the site's now-famous 'System Is Down' warning, ABC's DEVIN DWYER and STEVEN PORTNOY report. In a Sept. 25 email to staff developing the website, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services project manager Henry Chao cited "this fear the WH has about hc.gov being unavailable" and urged the team to "think about a better way to convey to the public when the site is not available." "I am picturing in my mind all the major print and online publications taking screenshots of what is below and just ramping up the hyperbole about hc.gov not [being] functional," Chao wrote. Republicans say it proves the White House knew the site was likely to fail, even as President Obama told Americans signing up for health insurance would be as simple as buying a plane ticket. Top administration officials have repeatedly said that they were caught entirely off guard by the breadth and depth of the site's technical problems on Oct. 1. http://abcn.ws/1hYEqHN
CHRIS CHRISTIE ALL THE RAGE AT GOP GOVERNORS MEETING. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie takes over the reins of the Republican Governors Association this week at its annual conference, with his future and possible presidential aspirations among the hot topics, at least for the press, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports from Scottsdale, Ariz. Outgoing association head Gov. Bobby Jindal, like many of the other 26 governors expected to attend, is also considered a possible 2016 contender, and he took a pass when asked whether Christie, seen as somewhat of a Republican savior since his landslide victory earlier this month, would be a good presidential candidate. "I know everybody in this room wants to do a story on 2016, the way you win is you win the next election, not the next, next election," Jindal said, not answering the question. "Let's go win those elections." The Louisiana governor expected the interest, beginning his remarks at a news conference here saying, "Probably one of the first questions we will get asked about is who is running for 2016? Which personality? Who's up? Who's down? The reality is we have got a lot of elections we need to focus on in 2014." Jindal did say he thinks Christie will do a "great job raising funds for the RGA" and a "great job campaigning across the country for our incumbent governors and challengers as well." The annual conference is at the posh Phoenician hotel and while GOP staffers, vendors and politicians strategize and socialize this week, it's clear that Christie's big win in his re-election bid this month is casting a shadow over not only the conference, but the party. http://abcn.ws/1eje3ah
ILLINOIS LEGALIZES SAME-SEX MARRIAGE, BUT LEGAL BATTLES LOOM IN 10 MORE STATES. In the latest of nationally sweeping pro-LGBTQ legislation, Illinois governor Pat Quinn signed marriage equality into law today at University of Illinois-Chicago, making his state the 16th to legalize same-sex marriage, ABC's JOAN E. GREVE writes. Illinois was nearly the 15th state to pass the law, but Hawaii's own bill passed its Senate on Nov. 12, and Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed it into law later that day. But on Friday, the same day Hawaii passed its bill, four same-sex couples in Idaho filed charges against the state to be equally recognized under the law. Here are just some of the states facing legal battles from issues related to same-sex couples: http://abcn.ws/1aS9gYI
NEW YORK CONGRESSWOMAN BACK TO WORK AFTER GETTING MUGGED. New York Democratic Rep. Grace Meng has resumed regular legislative activities after being mugged Tuesday night on Capitol Hill. Meng, 38, was walking in Eastern Market toward her Washington apartment after finishing dinner at a D.C. restaurant when she was struck in the back of the head near Sixth Street, SE, and Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, according a release issued by her office, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON notes. As she fell to the ground, the perpetrator took her handbag, and then fled on foot. Aides did not immediately respond to inquiries about the contents of Meng's hand bag. Lt. Kimberly Schneider of the U.S. Capitol Police confirmed that the department is leading an active, open investigation regarding this incident, but no arrests have been made. "While this was a frightening ordeal, I fortunately was not seriously injured," Meng wrote in a statement. "Obviously, things could have been much worse. I thank the U.S. Capitol Police and the District of Columbia Police for responding quickly and professionally." http://abcn.ws/1bSckIQ
50 YEARS LATER, 'JFK, INC.' STILL A THRIVING INDUSTRY. Ask someone who was alive on Nov. 22, 1963, and they can probably tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing on the day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, notes ABC's ANNETA KONSTANTINIDES. It was the gun shot heard around the world - the bullet ricocheting straight into Americans' hearts, ending Camelot and, many believed, taking the country's idealism along with it. Fast forward 50 years and both the myth and obsession surrounding Kennedy and his death seems as vibrant as ever. That moment in Dallas - the shock, the heartbreak and the conspiracy theories - continue to reverberate in books, films, television and even music. It's all part of the industry that has taken shape around the life and death of the 35th president of the United States. The anniversary of his assassination has brought a new wave of products: http://abcn.ws/1dk1sH4
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
OBAMA HONORS CLINTON, OPRAH WITH MEDAL OF FREEDOM. President Obama yesterday awarded the National Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, to 16 Americans, saying, "Their extraordinary lives remind us all of the beauty of the human spirit, the values that define us as Americans, the potential that lives inside of all of us." The recipients, including former President Bill Clinton, media icon Oprah Winfrey, baseball legend Ernie Banks and late astronaut Sally Ride, were recognized for their wide-ranging contributions to sports, music, politics, science, entertainment and journalism, ABC's MARY BRUCE notes. Obama praised Clinton for his public service in the White House and for his work with the Clinton Foundation, and jokingly thanked the former president for "the advice and counsel that you've offered me, on and off the golf course, and, most importantly, for your lifesaving work around the world." Lauding his close friend Winfrey, the president recounted how "her bosses told her she should change her name to Susie. … I have to pause here to say, I got the same advice," he said to laughter. "They didn't say I should be named Susie, but they suggested I should change my name. … People can relate to Susie, that's what they said. It turned out, surprisingly, that people can relate to Oprah just fine," he said. http://abcn.ws/18QjkBO