By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
ABC's JEFF ZELENY: It's the Senate's turn now. The clean debt ceiling bill is only five Republican votes away from becoming reality. Sen. Ted Cruz is calling for a 60-vote threshold today, which means it will take all Democrats and five Republicans to pass. He told us last night the House vote, supported by 28 Republicans, was a mistake. He called it, "An irresponsible course of conduct to keep giving President Obama a blank check." But that said, there's no appetite for brinksmanship and this measure could be on its way to the president's desk before the snow starts flying tonight. Democrats were looking for a fight and Republicans didn't oblige. But Vice President Biden's words from the health care bill signing are still apt here: "This is a big f-- deal."
ABC's RICK KLEIN: What's more shocking - the death of the Boehner Rule, or the breaking of the Hastert Rule? House Speaker John Boehner smashed both at once in bringing up a "clean" debt limit bill, and depending on Democrats to carry the weight of passage. The speaker is taking predictable heat from conservative groups. Punting to Democrats is, on one level, a stark admission (similar to his immigration announcement) that Boehner can't lead his conference anywhere that it doesn't want to go. But there's a serious case to be made that Boehner arrived simultaneously at smart policy and smart politics. Nobody wanted default, and now we won't get it. As for the politics, forcing Democrats to go on the record (and freeing most Republicans to vote no, just like Barack Obama did back in the day) puts the GOP where it wants to be in 2014.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: On Tuesday, the New Jersey state police confirmed that none of Gov. Chris Christie's helicopter flights during the week last September, when local access lanes leading to the George Washington Bridge were closed, flew over the bridge or even Fort Lee. "None of the three flights transporting the governor during that week flew over, or close to either the George Washington Bridge or Fort Lee, including the flight on 9/11," the state police said in a statement. The need to clarify came when earlier in the week reports said the state legislative committee investigating the lane closure scandal will also probe records of chopper rides Christie took to see if he flew near Fort Lee while lanes were closed and whether Wildstein was with him. Photographs show Wildstein and Christie did interact together at the September 11 memorial service at Ground Zero. Christie spokesman Colin Reed said the governor took a helicopter from New York City to Trenton after the 9/11 ceremony, when the lanes were closed, but that Wildstein was not with him, adding Wildstein "has never flown in the helicopter with the governor."
ABC's CHRIS GOOD: Eight Missouri couples will sue the state over its gay-marriage ban, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports, seeking to undo a state constitutional measure that passed with a whopping 70.6 percent on primary election day in 2004. Coincidentally, Missouri is where Michael Sam played football in the SEC before entering the draft and exiting the closet following his redshirt-senior year. For one, this lawsuit means the march to undo gay-marriage bans is proceeding, from California and the U.S. Supreme Court to more conservative states that have overwhelmingly rejected gay marriage. Looking back at that 2004 vote, the margin was stunning, even then. Missouri is a split partisan state, usually voting for the presidential winner and flip-flopping between Democratic and GOP control of the governor's mansion. Missouri might very well vote for another gay-marriage ban again, if given the chance-and it might pass one with a pretty big margin-but even in the Show Me State, it's hard to see that 70-percent, near-unanimous consensus holding up today. Needless to say, 70 percent stands in stark comparison to the way Sam was received by Missouri's largest public university.
HILLARY CLINTON HAD 'CONTEMPT' FOR FIRST LADY SCRUTINY, DOCUMENTS SHOW. Hillary Clinton had read some 43 biographies of her predecessors to prepare for becoming first lady, according to her close friend Diane Blair. But ultimately, Clinton would chart her own course, ABC's ABBY PHILLIP notes. New documents, recollections and letters collected by Blair and obtained by ABC News about Clinton's time as first lady show a Clinton simultaneously struggling during the low points of her husband's presidency and moving steadily toward satisfying her personal ambition - even when it polarized the public and activated her enemies. "Just visited with Hillary. I told her how fascinating I found the latest spate of Hillary-at-two years stories, and she expressed her total exasperation with all this obsession and attention, and how hard she's finding to conceal her contempt for it all," Blair wrote. Clinton discussed often a desire to correct the record and was frustrated by a seemingly endless spate of stories that she could "totally refute," according to Blair. http://abcn.ws/LUfpyo
CONSERVATIVE GROUP HAMMERS MCCONNELL IN NEW AD. The Senate Conservatives Fund, an outside group working to unseat some Republican incumbents, is out today with a new web ad hitting Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE writes. The Web commercial, exclusively obtained by ABC News, is titled "Bully" and draws parallels between the Kentucky Republican and last year's IRS scandal, in which tea party and conservative groups were given extra scrutiny on their tax-exempt applications, saying he too is "bullying" conservatives. The ad comes just one day after McConnell introduced legislation that would prevent the IRS from enacting regulations that would restrict the way some of these groups, from both sides of the aisle, engage in political activity. The SCF is actively working to elect McConnell's primary challenger, Matt Bevin. SCF says it is putting $100,000 behind the Web ad and that it is also going to send it to its email list of 1 million across the country. http://abcn.ws/1cvOUXm
'VEEP' MEETS THE VP: JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS AS JOE BIDEN'S DATE. Whoever set up seating arrangements at last night's State Dinner must get HBO, ABC's RICK KLEIN reports. Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who plays a bumbling vice president on the HBO series "Veep," was seated next to her real-life counterpart at the White House dinner honoring French President Francois Hollande. Louis-Dreyfus tweeted a photo of the two of them together - "Veep" and VP, side-by-side. Asked by a reporter what her favorite part of the evening was, Louis-Dreyfus didn't hesitate: "Look who I'm sitting next to," she said. That prompted the vice president to interrupt the conversation: "Hey, stop screwin' around, she's my date!" Biden said, according to the pool reporter stationed in the room. He started laughing and added, "Just kidding." http://abcn.ws/1kBndEq
CHRIS CHRISTIE RAISES $1 MILLION IN CHICAGO FUNDRAISING SWING. The ongoing George Washington Bridge lane closure scandal may be following New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as he travels around the country serving as chairman of the Republican Governors Association, but it does not seem to have hurt his fundraising prowess, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports. The same day the RGA reported a hefty haul thanks to Christie, an RGA aide tells ABC News they raised $1 million yesterday at fundraisers in Chicago. Christie held one-on-one fundraising meetings as well as headlining a dinner. Yesterday the RGA reported it has raised $6 million with the help of Christie and other GOP governors, more than twice as much as it has ever raised during the same month. Christie's trip last week to Texas raised $1.5 million and he has other fundraising stops in Massachusetts, Utah, Georgia, Connecticut and Michigan on his schedule. http://abcn.ws/1iNj0KQ
CALIFORNIA COLLEGE LAUNCHES TWITTER CAMPAIGN TO SCORE PRESIDENTIAL VISIT. President Obama heads to the central California city of Fresno on Friday to talk about the state's severe drought. And though the White House has yet to release details of the president's itinerary, one California college is trying really hard to get on his schedule. The Athletic Department at California State University, Fresno has mounted a Twitter campaign - complete with its own hashtag - to convince Obama to throw out the first pitch at its women's softball team's home opener. "A visit to Bulldog Diamond would be a relaxing finale for the couple and their first glimpse of one the nation's most historic athletic programs," Fresno State Athletics assistant director of communications Geoff Thurner wrote in an article on the college's website. "The 'Dogs have racked up a national-leading 30 softball NCAA tourney appearances to go along with one national title, four runner-up finishes and three more third-place efforts among their 12 Women's College World Series trips." http://abcn.ws/1gnbWDZ
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
'REALITY IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR SALE': AN INVESTIGATOR'S MISSION TO PROTECT THE TRUTH. As a renowned investigator working on some of the biggest historical events of the last 50 years - spanning from the civil rights movement to the investigation into Princess Diana's untimely death - Terry Lenzner built his career on uncovering and protecting the truth. But in an interview with "Power Players," Lenzner warned that the work of legal investigators is increasingly at risk of being corrupted by people looking to "buy reality." "This is a phenomenon now … in investigations, where people will spend a lot of money to buy reality, which in fact is not available for sale," said Lenzner, who has recently published a memoir about his career, "The Investigator: 50 Years of Uncovering the Truth." WATCH: http://yhoo.it/1jwxMZh
@AaronBlakeWP: Christie: "I think (GWB) was grossly underappreciated by his own country and his own party as a politician." http://wapo.st/1lC5Tgx
@ThePlumLineGS: A key tell: More Dem ads are hitting GOP over Obamacare repeal. Here are the latest: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2014/02/12/the-morning-plum-dems-hit-back-over-obamacare/ …
@mikememoli: Who's going to tell @VP? // BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) - Sinkhole opens at National Corvette Museum in southern Kentucky; 6 vehicles damaged.
@capitalweather: You tell us: Should this storm be named? Vote in poll here: http://wapo.st/1jwUeBx Offer suggestions if yes.