By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- WHITE HOUSE HUDDLE: Yesterday, President Obama hosted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee Chairman Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado and the Committee’s Executive Director Guy Cecil for a meeting at the White House where they discussed 2014 races and other issues in advance of the President’s meeting with the Senate Democratic caucus today. According to Yahoo News’ OLIVIER KNOX, “The source, who requested anonymity to describe the meeting, characterized the talks as ‘productive’…” http://yhoo.it/1n7JBCo
- ANALYSIS — ABC’s RICK KLEIN: As President Obama spends some time talking election strategy with Democrats this week, a favorite storyline is back: Some Democrats don’t want to be anywhere near the president this year. It’s fun fodder, but the story lacks any originality at this point. Anyone who remembers the late Bush years remembers how endangered Republicans wanted the president’s fundraising prowess but not the president himself. Notwithstanding the enthusiasm from then-Sen. Ben Nelson for “Obamaha” in his home state of Nebraska, this was always going to be the course for a president of either party. So it shall always be, most likely, and the White House team knows better than to feign offense.
- TODAY AT 1600 PENN: President Obama spends today focusing on education, Afghanistan and legislative strategy, according to ABC’s MARY BRUCE. This morning, the President visits a middle school in Adelphi, Md., to promote his goal to connect virtually all American students to broadband internet access. Continuing his call to action, the president will announce “major progress” toward realizing the ConnectED goal to get high-speed internet and educational technology into classrooms, according to the White House. This afternoon, the President meets privately in the Oval Office with the Department of Defense leadership on Afghanistan. He will also meet with the House Democratic Caucus at the White House.
CHRISTIE SAYS HE ‘UNEQUIVOCALLY’ HAD NO KNOWLEDGE OF LANE CLOSURE. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie appeared on a local radio show last night and again denied having any prior knowledge of the lane closure scandal that has engulfed his administration, according to ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and JOSH MARGOLIN. He said he “unequivocally” had no knowledge of a plan by top aides to shut down lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge for political retribution. “Let’s make one thing clear right off the bat which I think is the most important issue and the most important issue is: Did I know anything about a plan to close these lanes?” Christie said on the monthly radio program “Ask the Governor” on New Jersey’s 101.5 FM. “Did I authorize it? Did I know about it? Did I approve it? Did I have any knowledge of it beforehand? And the answer is still the same, it’s unequivocally no,” he said. Christie again repeated that he first found out about the traffic snarl from press coverage, specifically saying he read it in the Wall Street Journal when it reported on leaked e-mails from Port Authority Executive Director Patrick Foye saying he had no knowledge of the traffic study. http://abcn.ws/1nL47vF
CORY BOOKER QUOTES BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN IN FIRST SENATE SPEECH. Newly minted Sen. Cory Booker turned to the words of a home state legend yesterday, quoting Bruce Springsteen in his maiden speech on the Senate floor, notes ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ. “When times are tough, as the great New Jersey poet sings, ‘We take care of our own,’” said Booker, D-N.J. Booker used Springsteen’s lyrics to urge his colleagues to extend unemployment insurance, which the Senate failed to do last month. “For millions of Americans suffering amidst horrible economic conditions, not of their own making, who play by the rules, who are looking for work, who are struggling, who are suffering, we have more than 50 years of history of responding and extending unemployment insurance, but not now,” Booker said. “This is why unemployment insurance is critical. It is America answering the call to help people in crisis not of their own making,” he said. http://abcn.ws/Ltcvk9
OBAMA TELLS FOX NEWS ‘I’VE BEEN A BIG MONEY-MAKER FOR YOU’. In round two of their testy face-off, President Obama told Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly that the outspoken conservative host has “absolutely” been unfair to him throughout his presidency, reports ABC’s MARY BRUCE. “Of course you have, Bill,” the president said, when O’Reilly asked if he had been unfair. “But I like you anyway, Bill.” The president, chuckling, explained how O’Reilly had just questioned him about the botched HealthCare.gov rollout, the IRS controversy, and the terrorist attack in Benghazi, describing them as issues that are “defined by you guys in a certain way.” “This is OK,” Obama explained. “If you want to be President of the United States then you know that you’re going to be subject to criticism.” “Regardless of whether it’s fair or not, it has made Fox News very successful,” the president continued. “Here’s what you guys are going to have to figure out. What are you going to do when I’m gone?” “I’ve been a big money-maker for you,” he said, grinning. http://abcn.ws/1blmhM1
SENATORS DISTANCE THEMSELVES FROM SAYING JOHN KERRY WANTS TO ARM SYRIAN REBELS. Two key senators on foreign policy issues distanced themselves yesterday from assertions they made earlier that Secretary of State Kerry told them during a closed-door meeting that he had lost faith in the United States’ Syria strategy and wanted to arm the rebels there, according to ABC’s ALI WEINBERG and ARLETTE SAENZ. Asked by ABC News whether Kerry had proposed specific alternatives to the current U.S. strategy, including arming the loosely affiliated rebels there, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was in the room with Kerry during the meeting, responded, “No, but I think that was obviously a conclusion you could draw. … I don’t know how you could do more without increasing assistance to the rebels but he didn’t say it specifically.” McCain, along with Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., gave his impressions of the meeting, which took place on the margins of the Munich Security Conference, to three reporters traveling back on the plane with them. In several articles, Graham is quoted as saying of Kerry, “He openly talked about supporting arming the rebels. He openly talked about forming a coalition against al Qaeda because it’s a direct threat.” When Graham was asked again this evening about his recollections of the Sunday meeting, he did not mention arming the rebels, but noted several other factors Kerry mentioned, some of which Kerry has addressed publicly. “The things that stood out to me is he said the Russians are not being helpful when it comes to the chemical weapons issue, and the Syrians are slow-rolling the chemical weapons agreement and the Russians are still supplying them arms and they’re not being helpful and that al Qaeda is becoming a threat to us,” Graham said. http://abcn.ws/1n834CR
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
SCOTT BROWN’S NEW REASON TO GO SHIRTLESS. Scott Brown dove in this weekend — but not into the New Hampshire Senate race like many anticipate he may do. Instead, the former Massachusetts-senator-turned-Granite-State-resident jumped into the icy cold water in Hampton Beach, N.H., at the Penguin Plunge to benefit the Special Olympics New Hampshire, notes ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ. Brown’s shirtless picture was splashed across the front page of the New Hampshire Union Leader Monday morning, and dubbed “March of the Penguins” by the newspaper. (It’s not the first time Brown has publicly shed his clothes). PHOTO: http://abcn.ws/1gGQWeF
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
U.S. AMBASSADOR: IRAQ IN “PRECARIOUS SITUATION” IN COMBATING 2,000 EXTREMISTS. Just two years after U.S. troops pulled out of Iraq, the U.S. ambassador there says the country may be one suicide attack away from a full-on civil war. “We’re in a very precarious situation where a misstep anywhere could set off larger conflicts within the country, and that’s what we need to stay away from,” Ambassador Robert Stephen Beecroft told “On the Radar” during an interview at the U.S. embassy in Baghdad. “The wrong person gets killed, the wrong mosque gets attacked and exploded and you run the risk of sectarian conflict.” Beecroft said 2,000 “hard core” extremists are estimated to be provoking sectarian violence within the country. For more of the interview with the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, and to hear his opinion on how well Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has cooperated with the U.S., check out this episode of “On the Radar” with ABC’s MARTHA RADDATZ. http://yhoo.it/1io0Mzl
@jasondhorowitz: Jitters about the juggernaut RT @BuzzFeedBen: Obama Aides Doubt Clinton Strategy http://www.buzzfeed.com/bensmith/obama-aides-doubt-clinton-strategy …
@ron_fournier: Hillary Adviser to Liberals: “Nobody Should Take Us For Granted.” Don’t Assume a Damned Thing About Hillary Clinton http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/hillary-adviser-nobody-should-take-us-for-granted-20140203 …
@JimAcostaCNN: WH official confirms POTUS and VP to address House Dem. retreat next week in Cambridge, MD. Follows meeting with caucus later today.