By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
THE PRESIDENT MEETS THE POPE. President Obama met Pope Francis at the Vatican today, ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE and MARY BRUCE report. In his first official visit, which began at 10:27 a.m. in Rome, the president and the pope met for about 50 minutes - longer than many had expected - before bringing in the rest of the U.S. delegation, including Secretary of State John Kerry, National Security Advisor Susan Rice and press secretary Jay Carney. One by one, the 10 members of the delegation were introduced to the pope. President Obama made the slow, formal procession to greet the pope in the ornate Small Throne Room outside the Papal Library. "Wonderful meeting you. I'm a great admirer," the president said. The two walked into the library and took seats at opposite sides of the pope's desk. "I bring greetings from my family," Obama added. "The last time I came here to meet your predecessor I was able to bring my wife and children." http://abcn.ws/1pzNJfF
-GIFT EXCHANGE: The president presented the pope with a custom-made seed chest featuring a variety of fruit and vegetable seeds used in the White House Garden. The chest was made from American leather and wood from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. "These, I think, are carrots," Obama said, holding a pouch. "Each one has a different seed in it. The box is made from timber from the first cathedral to open in the United States, in Baltimore … If you have a chance to come to the White House, we can show you our garden as well," the president said. The inscription on the chest read: "Presented to His Holiness Pope Francis by Barack Obama President of the United States of America, March 27, 2014." The pope gave the president a plaque, which Obama said he would "treasure." http://abcn.ws/1pzNJfF
-WILL THE POPE RETURN THE FAVOR? Earlier this month, Pope Francis was invited by House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress. Boehner extended the formal invitation on Mar. 13 in a letter to the Vatican on the one-year anniversary of Francis' papacy saying the Holy Father has "awakened hearts on every continent." Since Paul VI made his first papal visit to the United States in 1965, three popes have come to America. John Paul II came to the United States seven times, visiting with every president from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton.
-A PRAYER FOR THE PRESIDENT: Before Obama left the Vatican, he and the Pope shook hands and embraced. "My family has to be with me on this journey. They've been very strong," Obama said. "Pray for them. I would appreciate it."
BEING JOE BIDEN
WELCOME TO PLANET BIDEN. LITERALLY. As Vice President Joe Biden once said, "This is a big f****** deal." The science journal Nature reports that astronomers have potentially discovered a brand-spanking-new dwarf planet that orbits the sun far beyond Pluto, and they're nicknaming it "Biden," according to ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ. "The newfound object's official name is 2012 VP 113, but the discovery team calls it VP for short, or just 'Biden' after U.S. Vice President Joe Biden," according to Nature. Eventually (and sadly), the planet will be renamed after more is learned about its orbit. But, for now, Biden can boast that he literally has a planet named after him. http://abcn.ws/1iBxDRJ
-SEVEN PEOPLE MOST JEALOUS OF JOE BIDEN AND HIS PLANET. Vice presidents often express a fear they'll be frozen out by the boss, cast off into an anonymous, icy orbit around the white hot White House. Not so for Vice President Joe Biden, who is said to enjoy a cozy relationship (and daily lunch) with President Obama. Indeed, it's a great honor that two astronomers nicknamed a possible dwarf planet after him. One a lot of folks would like to have as their own. Here is ABC's GREGORY J. KRIEG's list of a few that might be especially envious: http://abcn.ws/1duUYpb
JOE BIDEN, FOUR SLICES OF APPLE PIE AND (MAYBE) A GLIMPSE OF THE FUTURE. Don't bother trying to get a slice of apple pie from the Florida Avenue Grill in northwest Washington, D.C., yesterday. The vice president snagged the last four slices and left with a plastic carryout bag early yesterday afternoon, notes ABC's CHRIS GOOD. Joe Biden visited the small diner just north of U Street to promote raising the federal minimum wage to $10.10 per hour - President Obama's most ubiquitous domestic policy initiative at the moment, the theme of four out of the president's last six weekly radio/YouTube addresses. Biden was also there to commend its owner, Imar Hutchins, on paying his waitstaff $3.77 an hour, well above the federal $2.13 minimum wage for employees who work for tips. If Biden runs for president in 2016, as some have speculated, this sight will be a common occurrence in diners across Iowa and New Hampshire. Known as a skilled retail politician the VP would also count scenes like this as one of his campaign strengths. Here is Biden, walking in with a cluster of reporters, photographers and a TV camera, asking customers seated at the end of the counter if the food at the Florida Avenue Grill is as good as he's heard. http://abcn.ws/1lmQgMW
CONFESSIONS OF A FORMER WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY. If you think current White House Press Secretary Jay Carney has had some rough days, just ask former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry about the 1990s. As the buffer between a contentious press and Bill Clinton from 1995 to1998, McCurry talked through everything from a government shutdown to the Monica Lewinsky scandal. He hasn't entirely moved away from politics. He is a communications consultant and serves as a co-chairman on the Commission on Presidential Debates. He also recently took on the role of professor of religion and politics at the Wesley Theological Seminary. In a recent interview with ABCs ALEXANDER MALLIN, McCurry opened up about his time with the Clintons, the future of the Democratic Party, and why he's never once missed that podium in the White House briefing room. http://abcn.ws/1hvUsmo
DECODING THE DEMOCRATS' NEW 2014 AGENDA. With their control of the Senate in jeopardy, Democrats unveiled a new agenda yesterday in hopes of moving beyond the fierce Republican backlash of the health care law by trying to change the subject to a focus on pocketbook issues in the midterm elections, ABC's JEFF ZELENY reports. The White House and Congressional Democrats are launching a coordinated campaign to draw attention to their effort to raise the minimum wage to $10.10, eliminate the pay gap between men and women and lower interest rates on college loans. The proposals are almost certain to be blocked in the Republican-controlled House. So, what are they really attempting to do? Democrats are trying to force votes in the Senate to highlight their economic-fairness argument - and put Republicans in a tough spot. "This is an agenda for the middle class, politics that will help ensure a fair shot for everyone," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters yesterday as he unveiled the plan, standing next to a large billboard trumpeting their new message: "A fair shot for everyone." http://abcn.ws/1jvyFCn
-THE LANDSCAPE: ZELENY notes that Democrats are fighting to retain control of the Senate, a fragile majority that rests on only six seats. Democrats are facing stiff headwinds - since historically the president's party routinely loses seats during midterm elections - and sustained opposition to the nation's new health care law. The GOP enter the midterm election season with the advantage of a favorable political map, with Democrats trying to hold onto seats in deeply-red states that President Obama lost. Senator Chuck Schumer, of New York, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, said seizing upon the opposition to the health care law would backfire as a top issue for Republicans. He said similar strategies in 2010 and 2012 failed.
LAWMAKERS SEEK TO TAME 'WILD WEST' OF ONLINE GAMBLING. Place your bets: Senator Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Rep. Jason Chaffetz R-Utah, are going all in to ban online gambling, reports ABC's RYAN STRUYK. It all started two and a half years ago, when the Department of Justice ruled that the Wire Act - which had blocked all online gambling for 50 years - actually only applied to sports betting. "If there is a case that people want to make for online gambling, they need to come to the Congress," Chaffetz said. "There should not be a single person in the bowels of the Department of Justice reinterpreting law and fundamentally changing the landscape." The decision opened the floodgates to online gambling, and now, two and a half years after the switch, a bipartisan group of legislators - including Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., and Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., are in a scramble to close them. "Basically, it's been the wild West out there on the Internet, which is of deep concern and that creates a huge problem for law enforcement," Ayotte said. "Go read the plain text, because it doesn't even fly with the plain text of the Wire Act." http://abcn.ws/1grC2aq
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
PANDAS, TAI CHI AND PING PONG: WHAT MICHELLE OBAMA DID ON HER SPRING VACATION. It's spring break for America's First Daughters, Sasha and Malia Obama. So like countless moms across the nation, First Lady Michelle Obama took them on holiday. (Dad's on a business trip: a nuclear security summit at The Hague.) With grandma Michelle Robinson in tow, the first lady and first daughters jetted off to China for a week of sightseeing. After a surprise meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the four Obama women hit several of the country's premier tourist attractions - the Great Wall, the Terra Cotta Warriors in Xi'an, the Forbidden City - but made time for some less conventional activities as well. Here are a few of the highlights, courtesy of ABC's ERIN DOOLEY: http://abcn.ws/1pyOFRp
@woodhouseb: I guess everyone should hire their own lawyer to do an incomplete investigation into their own wrongdoing and then declare them cleared.
@HotlineJosh: "As foreign crises worsen, prospective presidential candidates are becoming born-again hawks" http://www.nationaljournal.com/against-the-grain/foreign-policy-reemerging-with-a-vengeance-in-2016-20140326 …