By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- A TEST IN TRENTON: After newly discovered emails appeared to connect a top aide of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie to the controversial closure of several lanes on the world’s busiest bridge as political payback against a local mayor, Christie has scheduled a news conference for 11 a.m. Eastern in Trenton, N.J. to discuss the matter, ABC’s ABBY PHILLIP reports. Christie said in a statement yesterday that he was “misled” by a staffer. “What I’ve seen today for the first time is unacceptable,” Christie said. “I am outraged and deeply saddened to learn that not only was I misled by a member of my staff, but this completely inappropriate and unsanctioned conduct was made without my knowledge.” http://abcn.ws/1eHmR9p
- JERSEY LEGISLATOR CALL FOR WIDER INVESTIGATION: A New Jersey state senator is calling for a federal investigation into the closing of lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge last year, according to ABC’s JOSH MARGOLIN. Senior state Sen. Ray Lesniak told ABC News this morning that he will formally ask federal prosecutors in New York and New Jersey to investigate the growing bridge scandal. A request will also be made to the Manhattan district attorney, Lesniak said. The U.S. Department of Justice today said it has no comment on the matter at this time. http://abcn.ws/1ffOyea
- BACKSTORY: The emails and text messages that came to light yesterday appear to indicate that the Christie aide orchestrated the lane closings and subsequent traffic jams in Fort Lee, N.J., in September to punish the borough’s Democratic mayor for not supporting Chistie’s re-election campaign. Several lanes were closed Sept. 9 on a busy weekday morning as commuters tried to get to work, children to their first week of school and emergency response personal to incidents in and around the borough of Fort Lee. ABC News has obtained a letter from Fort Lee, N.J., EMS coordinator Paul Favia to Fort Lee Mayor Mark Sokolich that documents four medical situations in which emergency responders were delayed because of the traffic gridlock. In one case, a 91-year-old woman later died at a hospital of cardiac arrest. Although Favia doesn’t directly tie her death to the delays, he noted that “paramedics were delayed due to heavy traffic on Fort Lee Road and had to meet the ambulance en route to the hospital instead of on the scene.” Sen. Lesniak said, “In addition to abuse of government authority for political gain, I will ask to investigate reckless endangerment of lives, possibly criminally negligent homicide,” a reference to the woman’s death. http://abcn.ws/1ffOyea
ABC’s JEFF ZELENY: Reacting and recovering from a scandal can often be as important as the scandal itself, so we’ll get a good look today at how Gov. Chris Christie takes action in the escalating New Jersey bridge drama. But no matter how tough Christie is and no matter how swiftly he removes top aides from the payroll, he’s unlikely to quickly gain control of this crisis. It’s not just New Jersey Democratic lawmakers who will be digging for answers in Trenton. This opens the door to far more scrutiny of how Sandy relief money was spent. Sen. Rand Paul, a potential 2016 foe, has already been asking pointed questions about the federal money used on TV ads promoting the comeback of New Jersey, featuring Christie. Inspector generals across federal agencies in Washington now may find a new reason to take another look at how New Jersey spent its whopping chunk of federal recovery money in the wake of Sandy.
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: The closed-lanes story is big in every way – big personalities, big issues, big, relatable stakes. It’s not Chris Christie’s first challenge on the national stage, but it’s sweeping enough that it threatens to be his last. The scandal cuts to the heart of who Christie is – the good and the bad – which is why it demands an outsized response, and fast. If Christie really is the no-nonsense, straight-shooting, on-your-side leader he bills himself as, he needs to be out in front: multiple firings, his own investigations, accepting personal responsibility, and going overboard in trying to make things right. If he’s a typical politician, he’s a typical politician. All the while he better hope the multiple investigations don’t further implicate him or other staff members – and that his latest words on the subject, about what he knew and when, hold up.
CRISIS MANAGEMENT ADVICE FOR CHRIS CHRISTIE. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is dealing with the biggest national political scandal of his career. The revelation that his top aides appeared to orchestrate the closing of several lanes on the world’s busiest bridge to punish a local Democratic mayor of Fort Lee has stunned the political world. How he handles this crisis could affect his ability to stay the front-runner in GOP politics going into 2016. The scandal also threatens to damage his management credentials as a governor, which have been one of his competitive advantages over other prospective 2016 presidential contenders. There’s plenty of advice for Christie to go around. ABC’s ABBY PHILLIP collected some of the offers on crisis management via social media: http://abcn.ws/1cQX0IU
HOW WILL THE BRIDGE SCANDAL AFFECT CHRIS CHRISTIE’S POLITICAL FUTURE? How will the scandal affect Gov. Chris Christie’s future political aspirations? Ruth Mandel, the director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers University, told ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE that his future all depends on what Christie says, what his explanation is, if he apologizes. “I think it has the potential for affecting his governorship and his presidential aspirations, but we don’t know yet how he is going to explain the news that we’ve heard today,” Mandel said. “Really, everyone is waiting to hear from him.” Since his landslide re-election win in blue New Jersey in November, he’s been seen as the candidate who could sail to the nomination by appealing to both sides of the aisle as well as to traditional Democratic constituencies like Hispanic and African-American voters. But this is Christie’s first big scandal. “He’s now faced with convincing people that this is something he had nothing to do with and to explain it in such a way that people are satisfied,” Mandel said, adding he must also explain himself how the “people so close to him … felt authorized to do this.” The tough-talking governor has been accusing of bullying behavior before and critics say this is the latest example of a leader who uses retribution if he doesn’t get his way. Christie has always said voters appreciate his brashness, but opponents critique it’s not a style that will play outside the Garden State. http://abcn.ws/1gijmHA
OBAMA SITS BY HIS MAN BIDEN AFTER BOOK’S SCATHING CRITIQUE. A picture was truly worth a thousand words at the White House yesterday. Just one day after former Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ contempt for Vice President Joe Biden’s foreign policy acumen spilled from between the covers of his 640-page memoir, President Obama and the vice president hardly had to say a word to get their message across, ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ reports. The White House granted the press rare access to the normally private weekly lunch between the pair. They sat across from each other at a large dining table in the private dining room just off the Oval Office, a symbolic show of support from the commander in chief for his vice president. In the brief photo opportunity, the president and vice president were heard speaking about the weather. As the cameras were escorted out of the room, Obama said he was trying to fulfill his mission “to be nicer to the White House press corps.” There was nothing about Gates and no questions either, while still photographers and a television camera were allowed to briefly photograph the Obama and Biden meeting. No editorial presence was allowed in the room. PHOTO: http://abcn.ws/1cBG0tD
TODAY AT THE WHITE HOUSE: This afternoon, President Obama will introduce the first five “Promise Zones” in an event in the East Room, according to ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ notes. First introduced in his 2013 State of the Union address, the promise zones initiative aims to help economically challenged areas of the country. These “Promise Zones” will be located in San Antonio, Philadelphia, Los Angeles; Southeastern Kentucky, and the Choctaw Nation in Oklahoma. Meanwhile, as President Obama draws closer to making a decision about how to reform NSA programs, he and Vice President Joe Biden will meet with members of Congress at the White House to discuss the issue this morning.
‘WAR ON POVERTY’ AT 50: POLITICAL CLASH OVER LBJ’S VISION. Fifty years after President Lyndon B. Johnson declared “all-out war on human poverty and unemployment” in America, Republicans and Democrats are locked in a pitched battle over whether the United States is winning – or losing. The debate, spilling out on Capitol Hill during the week of the anniversary of LBJ’s speech, underscores the philosophical divide between the parties and marks the open of a midterm campaign where the issue of economic inequality will take center stage, ABC’s DEVIN DWYER notes. “While this war may have been launched with the best of intentions, it’s clear we’re now engaged in a battle of attrition that has left more Americans in poverty than at any other point in our nation’s history,” Rep. Steve Southerland, R-Fla., said. Since 1964, the government has run “the most ambitious, determined and successful campaign in history to reduce poverty since the Great Depression,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said. “Without the public social safety net, the poverty rate in America would be nearly twice what it is today.” Both sides agree that the fight against poverty rages on, but they disagree on whether Johnson’s vision of government, with expanded taxpayer-funded social benefit programs, has made sufficient inroads. More than 46 million Americans live below the federal poverty line, which is an annual income of roughly $11,500 for an individual or $23,500 for a family of four, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The national average unemployment rate was 7 percent at the end of 2013. http://abcn.ws/KywrBU
CONGRESSIONAL EXODUS GROWS AS TWO HOUSE DEMS CALL IT QUITS. Two veteran Democratic members of Congress have decided to retire at the end of the term, making it tougher for Democratic plans to recapture a House majority this fall, notes ABC’s JOHN PARKINSON. Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a nine-term Democrat from New York, and Rep. Mike McIntyre, a nine-term Democrat from North Carolina, both announced yesterday that they have had enough. “I have decided not to seek re-election to the United States Congress in 2014,” McCarthy wrote in a statement to campaign supporters. ”As I plan for the next chapter of my life, I look forward to resuming my role as a citizen activist for the causes and principles that are so close to my heart.” McIntyre, a Blue Dog Democrat who had been a top target for Republicans in recent elections, creates a daunting challenge for Democrats hoping to retain the heavily Republican congressional district. “Having answered the call entrusted through this partnership, I will be retiring from the U.S. House of Representatives at the end of this term,” McIntyre, 57, stated. “My family and I are ready for a new chapter and excited about new opportunities to continue helping North Carolina.” http://abcn.ws/1d2CNUW
–BY THE NUMBERS: So far, nine House Republicans and three House Democrats have decided to retire at the end of this term. Eight additional Republicans and three more Democrats have decided to run for the Senate while another House Democrat, Mel Watt, was sworn in this week after a presidential appointment to head the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Democrats must produce a net-gain of at least 17 seats to win the House majority this fall.
OBAMACARE AD BLITZ PLANNED FOR OLYMPICS. The White House is planning to make a major play to sign up young and healthy Americans for Obamacare when the Winter Olympics open next month, reports ABC’s DEVIN DWYER. The Department of Health and Human Services will launch a TV ad blitz to take advantage of anticipated increased viewership on NBC stations which will carry the Olympic coverage between Feb. 7 and 23, an administration official confirmed to ABC News. The official said the ads would run in markets with the highest rates of uninsured, but declined to specify the locations or the amount that would be spent. The ads will encourage uninsured people, particularly young adults, to enroll in Obamacare coverage before the March 31 deadline. They will also educate consumers about new insurance benefits available under the Affordable Care Act, an official said. http://abcn.ws/1iUjjFZ
@ron_fournier: My column: “Christie Needs to Go Super Sister Souljah on Bridge Scandal” http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/christie-needs-to-go-super-sister-souljah-on-bridge-scandal-20140109 …
@jdickerson: Dennis Rodman says he apologizes and that he’d been drinking. Does that cover the last 30 years?