The Note’s Must-Reads for Wednesday, February 26, 2014

By Will Cantine

Feb 26, 2014 3:37am

The Note’s Must-Reads are a round-up of today’s political headlines and stories from ABC News and the top U.S. newspapers. Posted Monday through Friday right here at www.abcnews.com 

Compiled by ABC News’ Will Cantine, Jayce Henderson and Jordan Mazza

AFGHANISTAN // NATIONAL SECURITY
ABC News’ Luis Martinez: “‘Zero Option’ Could Add Up To Afghan Civil War, Pakistan Official Warns” The so-called “zero option” — the complete withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Afghanistan by year’s end — could result in a civil war and a mass desertion of Afghan security forces, a senior Pakistani official warned today. The White House acknowledged for the first time today that it is unlikely that Afghan President Hamid Karzai will sign a security agreement that would allow a small force of American troops to remain in Afghanistan. As a result, it said the Pentagon had been tasked with drawing up plans that could result in the full withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan should an agreement not be signed. LINK

The New York Times’ Mark Landler and Helene Cooper: “Trust Eroded, Obama Looks Beyond Karzai” President Obama, apparently resigned to President Hamid Karzai’s refusal to sign a long-term security agreement with the United States before he leaves office, told him in a phone call on Tuesday that he had instructed the Pentagon to begin planning for a complete withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year. But in a message aimed less at Mr. Karzai than at whoever will replace him, Mr. Obama said that the United States was still open to leaving a limited military force behind in Afghanistan to conduct training and counterterrorism operations. LINK

The Wall Street Journal’s Adam Entous, Carol E. Lee and Julian E. Barnes: “Obama Warns Karzai Of A Pullout, But Keeps U.S. Options Open” President Barack Obama told Afghanistan’s leader, Hamid Karzai, that the U.S. was preparing for a full troop withdrawal by year’s end, but opened the door to reaching an accord with Mr. Karzai’s successor for soldiers to remain. Tuesday’s move effectively pushes back the timing of a final White House troop decision until later this year, following Afghan elections. Mr. Karzai, in refusing to sign the security accord, has argued that the country’s next leader should make decisions on its relationship with the U.S. LINK

The Washington Times’ Guy Taylor and John Solomon: “EXCLUSIVE: FBI Had Human Source In Contact With Bin Laden As Far Back As 1993” In a revelation missing from the official investigations of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the FBI placed a human source in direct contact with Osama bin Laden in 1993 and ascertained that the al Qaeda leader was looking to finance terrorist attacks in the United States, according to court testimony in a little-noticed employment dispute case. The information the FBI gleaned back then was so specific that it helped thwart a terrorist plot against a Masonic lodge in Los Angeles, the court records reviewed by The Washington Times show. LINK

PRESIDENT OBAMA AND SPEAKER BOEHNER
The Washington Post’s Paul Kane and Juliet Eilperin: “Obama And Boehner Meet At White House, But No One Expects Much” When they met secretly in 2011, President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner sent Washington into a frenzy of speculation about the prospect of a “grand bargain” on the budget brokered by the top Democrat and the top Republican in town. Nowadays, when these two powerful political figures sit down together, their aides and allies seek to lower expectations.That’s how it went Tuesday inside the Oval Office as Obama and Boehner (Ohio) huddled for an hour, covering a long list of important subjects ranging from paving highways to drawing down troops in Afghanistan. LINK

The Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Mascaro and Kathleen Hennessey: “Obama, Boehner Discuss Drought, Trade In White House Meeting” President Obama and House Speaker John A. Boehner held their first one-on-one meeting in more than a year Tuesday at the White House, but the discussion was another indication that the prospects for big, bipartisan deal-making are slim. As the midterm election approaches, legislating has nearly ground to a halt in the divided Congress. The Oval Office meeting had the appearance of two leaders putting forward their best effort to show they remained ready to work together, despite the breakdown of their earlier talks. LINK

The Hill’s Russell Berman and Justin Sink: “Obama, Boehner Achieve Little At 14-Month White House Reunion” President Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) had a lot of catching-up to do on Tuesday. The two men met in the Oval Office for their first one-on-one confab in 14 months, a gap reflective of the partisan divide in Washington and the strained relationship between a Democratic president and a Republican Speaker who once thought they could make history together. A Boehner aide listed 10 topics the leaders discussed in the hourlong sit-down, including trade, immigration, the new healthcare law, Afghanistan and a collection of more parochial issues. LINK

The New York Times’ Michael D. Shear: “White House Meeting Turns Into A Lightening Round For Obama And Boehner” President Obama and Speaker John A. Boehner sat across from each other for an hour on Tuesday in the leather-bound chairs of Mr. Obama’s office and quickly ticked through a remarkably long list of issues. They chatted about economic matters like manufacturing, trade promotion authority and flood insurance, according to aides to both men. They discussed the Affordable Care Act and the president’s push for an immigration overhaul. They engaged on efforts to wind down the war in Afghanistan, the process of getting a budget, and the stalled highway funding bill. And don’t forget the California drought and Mr. Obama’s new plan for fighting fires. LINK

ARIZONA AND ANTI-GAY LAW
USA Today’s Catalina Camia: “Mitt Romney Calls on Arizona Governor To Veto Anti-Gay Law” Add Mitt Romney to the growing list of people opposed to the controversial anti-gay law in Arizona. The 2012 Republican presidential candidate urged Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer via Twitter  to veto Senate Bill 1062, which would allow businesses with strongly held religious beliefs to deny service to gays and lesbians. Romney joins both U.S. senators from Arizona, John McCain and Jeff Flake, the Arizona Chamber of Commerce and Industry and a host of business leaders to call on Brewer to strike down the law. One of the fears in the business community is that the law would cost Arizona its shot at hosting Super Bowl XLIX next year. LINK

The Los Angeles Times’ Cindy Carcamo: “On Gay Issue, Arizona May Heed National Outcry This Time” When Arizona took controversial stands in the past — refusing to create a Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and enacting a tough anti-illegal immigration law — state leaders shrugged off the criticism from out of state as the meddling of outsiders. But now, after the Legislature passed a measure to bolster the rights of business owners to refuse service to gays and others on the basis of religion, Arizona leaders seem to be listening to a national outcry and are urging the governor to veto the bill.

The Wall Street Journal’s Tamara Audi: “Culture Clash Roils Arizona” Legislation in Arizona that would allow business owners to deny service to customers based on the owners’ religious beliefs is becoming a test case in a widening clash over religious freedom and discrimination. This week, under mounting pressure from business groups, companies including Apple Inc. and gay-rights advocates to veto the bill passed by the state Legislature, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is expected to decide whether to sign it into law. Advocates say the bill doesn’t discriminate and merely strengthens and clarifies the state’s existing religious-freedom law to protect business owners from being forced to act against their consciences. LINK

HEALTHCARE
The Hill’s Jonathan Easley: “Holder, Sebelius Tout Billions in Healthcare Fraud Recoveries” The U.S. recovered $4 billion last year through healthcare fraud prevention and enforcement efforts, according to a report released Wednesday by Attorney General Eric Holder and Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. The report says that the Health Care Fraud and Abuse Control Act (HCFAC) recovered more than $8 for every $1 it spent on healthcare fraud investigations over the last three years, the best ratio in the 17-year history of the program. “With these extraordinary recoveries, and the record-high rate of return on investment we’ve achieved on our comprehensive health care fraud enforcement efforts, we’re sending a strong message to those who would take advantage of their fellow citizens, target vulnerable populations, and commit fraud on federal health care programs,” Holder said in a statement. LINK

Politico’s Susan Levine: “Obamacare Enrollment Hits 4 Million” About 4 million people have signed up for health coverage in the new Obamacare exchanges since Oct. 1 with just over a month left for people to enroll, federal officials said late Tuesday. That total is up from 3.3 million enrolled at the end of January. In a blog post, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator Marilyn Tavenner released the new number of signups through the state and federal exchanges. But she provided few details and no demographic breakdown, such as the number of young adults who have signed up or the percentage who have paid their premiums. Tavenner said health officials continue to see “strong demand nationwide” and that more than 12 million calls have come into the federal call center since the fall. LINK

The Los Angeles Times’ Naom N. Levey: “Obamacare Enrollment Hits 4 Million” Enrollment in health plans sold on marketplaces created by President Obama’s healthcare law has hit 4 million, the administration announced Tuesday, marking another milestone in the law’s implementation. The number suggests sign-ups have continued at a brisk pace in February, with about 700,000 people selecting an insurance plan so far this month. How many of the people who have selected coverage have also paid the premiums remains unclear, a key metric the administration has declined to release. It is also unclear whether the Obama administration will hit its original target of 7 million sign-ups in 2014, the first year for the new online marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act. LINK

MINIMUM WAGE
Bloomberg’s Kathleen Hunter and Michael bender: “Reid Insists On $10.10 Wage As Some In Party Set To Talk” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid won’t consider raising the U.S. minimum wage to any level less than $10.10 an hour, though some of his fellow Democrats say they are ready to negotiate a lower amount. Three Senate Democrats seeking re-election in November expressed concerns yesterday about raising the federal wage floor to $10.10 an hour. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Mark Warner of Virginia are in races both parties view as competitive. LINK

The Hill’s Alexander Bolton: “Lacking Votes, Reid Stalling Action On Minimum Wage Hike Legislation” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Tuesday delayed action on legislation raising the minimum wage, the centerpiece of the Democrats’ 2014 agenda. The Nevada Democrat made the surprising move amid escalating Democratic resistance in the wake of a Congressional Budget Office report released last week estimating that hiking the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour could cost the equivalent of 500,000 jobs by late 2016. Reid has not yet unified his caucus on the issue, which is a constant in the Democrats’ election-year playbook. Of the 55 senators who caucus with the Democrats, only 32 have signed on as official co-sponsors of Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) bill. LINK

THE CLINTONS
Politico’s Josh Gerstein: “The Clinton Library’s Secret Files” A trove of Clinton White House records long processed for release remains hidden from public view at the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock — even though the legal basis initially used to withhold them expired more than a year ago. The papers contain confidential advice given to or sought by President Bill Clinton, including communications with then-first lady Hillary Clinton, and records about people considered for appointments to federal office. LINK

ABC NEWS VIDEO
Attorney General Takes Stand Against Gay Marriage BanLINK
Couple Hopes Billboard Will Bring Taliban-Held POW HomeLINK
Joe Biden On 2016: ‘Haven’t Made Up My MindLINK

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