By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- SENATORS HEAD TO UKRAINE — EMPTY-HANDED: Here’s what Congress is sending to Ukraine this weekend: Eight U.S. senators to meet with leaders of the country’s interim government. Here’s what Congress isn’t sending to Ukraine: An aid package for the people of the embattled nation. Over the past few days, ABC’s ARLETTE SAENZ notes, Congress has been embroiled in a battle over a proposed package. The House passed a bill last week to provide $1 billion in loan guarantees. The Senate’s measure includes asset freezes and visa revocations for certain Russian officials and creates reforms for the International Monetary Fund. And that’s where the aid package hit a snag. Republicans oppose tying reforms that would expand the IMF’s lending capacity to the bill. “The IMF money has nothing to do with Ukraine,” House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said yesterday. Senate Republicans also want to attach a new IRS rule that would curb the political activities of nonprofit groups — an unrelated issue — to the measure. http://abcn.ws/1fXlMyF
- SENATORS CRY FOUL: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., went so far as to blame the Koch brothers for stalling the Ukraine aid package. And Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., among the eight lawmakers heading to Ukraine this weekend, lashed out at his colleagues who are holding up the aid package. “You can call yourself Republicans. That’s fine, because that’s your voter registration. Don’t call yourself Reagan Republicans,” McCain said. “Ronald Reagan would never, would never let this kind of aggression go un-responded to by the American people.” The Senate now heads into a week-long recess with an aid package undone. http://abcn.ws/1fXlMyF
- THIS WEEK ON ‘THIS WEEK’: ABC News covers the latest on the mysterious disappearance of Malaysian Air Flight 370 and Ukraine’s referendum on the future of Crimea, Sunday on “This Week.” Plus, ABC’s GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS goes one-on-one with billionaire Bill Gates on the battle over Common Core teaching standards, only on “This Week. And the powerhouse roundtable debates all the week’s politics, with ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, author and Georgetown University professor Michael Eric Dyson, Weekly Standard editor and ABC News contributor William Kristol, editor and publisher of The Nation Katrina vanden Heuvel, and Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren. Be sure to use #ThisWeek when you tweet about the program. Tune in Sunday: http://abcnews.go.com/thisweek
SCOTT BROWN POISED EXPLORE NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATE RUN. Scott Brown, the former Massachusetts senator who lost his seat to Elizabeth Warren, is poised to open an exploratory committee to run for the Senate again — but this time, in New Hampshire, ABC’s JEFF ZELENY reports. Three Republican officials tell ABC News that Brown is nearing a decision to jump into the New Hampshire Senate race to challenge Sen. Jeanne Shaheen. The contest would instantly become one of the hottest races in the country and could give Republicans one more path to winning control of the Senate. Brown could announce his plans as early as today, one source said. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was quick to criticize Brown, saying: “if this exploratory committee is anything more than another publicity stunt he’ll have a tough time convincing New Hampshire voters that he cares about anyone other than himself.” http://abcn.ws/1fWhIPd
–ANALYSIS — ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Now the question turns from what will Brown do to what he can do. For Republicans, Scott Brown’s entry into the Senate race in New Hampshire has the immediate impact of expanding the map. New Hampshire catches waves – the blue kind in 2006, 2008, and 2012, red in 2010 – and you need boats on the water for the winds to hit you. Brown’s state-jumping is more than a historical curiosity: He will immediately become a viable challenger to Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, should he emerge from a still-jumbled primary. (And on that front, watch the Union-Leader’s welcome closely.) Brown’s waiting game has annoyed operatives from Manchester to Washington, but he still has plenty of time. And Republicans are about to have another path to recapturing the Senate majority.
–NOTED: Brown is scheduled to speak later this afternoon at the Northeast Republican Leadership Conference, a gathering of Republican politicians and activists, in Nashua, N.H.
JARED LETO LEADS ‘ROCK STAR DIPLOMACY’ IN UKRAINE. Fresh off his Oscar win, actor and musician Jared Leto has spent the last two days in Kiev, Ukraine, performing with his rock band Thirty Seconds to Mars and expressing support for the pro-Western independence movement there, ABC’s ALI WEINBERG notes. “I know it may be difficult but there’s no price too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself,” Leto told a cheering crowd at the band’s show Wednesday at Kiev’s Sports Palace. Leto mentioned that other American bands had cancelled their Ukraine appearances which, if honored, would have brought them into the heart of an international struggle between protesters who toppled Ukraine’s pro-Russian government and a Russian president who wants to bring the former Soviet state back into his orbit. “I understand other bands have cancelled their shows but there was no f—king way” he was going to follow suit, Leto said. But Leto and his group are not the only bands from either side of the Atlantic to have used their stardom to take a stand on the conflict. Eugene Hütz, the Ukrainian-born frontman of the New York-based, self-described “gypsy punk” band Gogol Bordello, posted a picture on the group’s website of a new sticker on his guitar, which he said translated to “Ukraine, not an outskirt but a centre.” http://abcn.ws/1exbgIS
OBAMA MOVES TO EXPAND OVERTIME PAY. Continuing his “Year of Action,” President Obama yesterday signed a presidential memorandum directing the Department of Labor to develop a plan to extend overtime pay for millions of workers, ABC’s MARY BRUCE notes. The move is the latest in the president’s focus on middle-class economic issues, which includes a call for a higher minimum wage and equal pay for women. Claiming the overtime rules have eroded over the years, the president is instructing the Secretary of Labor to devise new guidelines that would set a higher income threshold for employees to qualify for overtime pay. Currently, workers who are paid hourly wages or who make $455 a week or less are protected by overtime regulations, while those above the threshold who perform “executive, professional or administrative duties” are not. http://abcn.ws/PxXUXJ
CHRIS CHRISTIE’S TESLA PROBLEM: HOW IT COULD IMPACT 2016. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, self-declared enemy of all “sacred cows,” is being accused of protecting the golden calf of the automobile industry, ABC’s ABBY PHILLIP writes. Startup electric car company Tesla is taking Christie to task for a new rule that would make buying those cars in New Jersey impossible starting next month. This week, the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission approved a rule that prevents car manufacturers from selling directly to their customers — which was also backed by traditional automobile retailers who presently serve as a middle man between car manufacturers and consumers. According to Tesla, it’s a classic example of government officials protecting entrenched special interests, in this case traditional car dealer franchises, at the expense of consumers who don’t have access to newer technology at lower prices. Christie’s office has said that they told Tesla from the beginning that the dispute needs to be resolved in the legislature. http://abcn.ws/1cVjiAl
–NOTED: CHRISTIE FIRES BACK AT HECKLER: ‘SIT DOWN AND KEEP QUIET!’ New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie fired back at a group of protesters yesterday during a town hall meeting, telling one of them to “sit down and keep quiet,” reports ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE. The outburst took place while Christie held his 113th town hall to promote his budget, although it’s unclear who the protesters are. Christie, no stranger to confrontation, said he didn’t “know who these folks are” — but said he believes they were together calling them a “coordinated, partisan effort.” Each of the six protesters were escorted out after they began yelling. The crowd that had gathered at the YMCA of Burlington County in Mount Laurel applauded when the protesters were walked out. VIDEO: http://abcn.ws/1ihJzZk
POPE FRANCIS INVITED TO ADDRESS JOINT SESSION OF CONGRESS. Pope Francis has been invited by House Speaker John Boehner to speak to a joint session of Congress, ABC’s JEFF ZELENY reports. Boehner extended the formal invitation yesterday in a letter to the Vatican — on the one-year anniversary of his papacy — saying the Holy Father has “awakened hearts on every continent.” “Pope Francis has inspired millions of Americans with his pastoral manner and servant leadership, challenging all people to lead lives of mercy, forgiveness, solidarity, and humble service,” Boehner wrote. “His tireless call for the protection of the most vulnerable among us — the ailing, the disadvantaged, the unemployed, the impoverished, the unborn — has awakened hearts on every continent.” http://abcn.ws/1lCsnxC
–PAPAL TRIVIA: Since Paul VI made his first papal visit to the United States in 1965, three popes have come to America. John Paul II, who came to the United States seven times, visited with every president from Jimmy Carter to Bill Clinton. A pope has visited the United Nations four times, but one has never addressed the House and Senate during a joint session.
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
HARRY REID’S TOTALLY ‘RADICAL’ FLOOR SPEECH TARGETS KOCHS. It was totally radical day for Sen. Harry Reid. So “radical,” in fact, that the Senate majority leader used the word 21 times in a floor speech Thursday morning, to criticize the billionaire conservative donors Charles and David Koch, ABC’s CHRIS GOOD notes. Reid has undertaken an anti-Koch crusade of late, blasting the brothers for funding ads that attack Democratic candidates. Last month, Reid called the brothers ”un-American.” His prepared floor speech only included 12 uses of “radical,” but he nearly doubled that count, apparently on the fly. “When Senate Republicans defend the Koch brothers, they are also defending the Koch brothers’ radical philosophy,” Reid said, going on to ask whether Republicans would defend the “radical” agenda to roll back environmental regulations, repeal Democratic health reforms, and alter Social Security and Medicare, repeating his question as a refrain throughout the speech. “Those were Charles Koch’s own words, radical philosophy, by the way,” Reid said. http://abcn.ws/1iFxXxB
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
DRESS TO IMPRESS: THE SECRETS OF A STYLISH POWER DRESSER. Whether you’re an intern looking to land a first job or at the top of the executive ladder, the principles of power dressing are useful guideposts for workplace fashion. In this episode of “Power Players,” Lauren Rothman, author of the “Style Bible: What to Wear to Work,” takes ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE to Bloomingdale’s for some styling advice. WATCH: http://yhoo.it/1nZFlad
IN THE NOTE’S INBOX
HOUSE MAJORITY PAC ANNOUNCES NEW COMMUNICATIONS DIRECTOR. House Majority PAC, a group devoted to helping Democrats get elected to Congress, announced today that Matt Thornton will take over as Communications Director for Andy Stone, who is departing for Facebook. “Matt has the right combination of experience and savvy to help House Majority PAC hold Republicans accountable and win House seats,” Executive Director Alixandria Lapp said in a statement. “Andy has been an invaluable asset to our team. I wish him the best and know that he has laid the groundwork for Matt to step in and excel.” According to the group’s press release: “Thornton has over a decade of political experience on campaigns, in Congress, and with independent expenditures. … He was most recently the Senior Communications Adviser at American Bridge 21st Century.”
WHAT WE’RE READING
“CAN COLORADO GOP BRING BACK THE GLORY DAYS?” an ABCNews.com Op-Ed by GOP strategist Joe Brettell. “If there were a theme song for recent Republican history in Colorado, it would have to be, “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling.” Once a reliable Republican stronghold, the state went red in 10 of 12 presidential elections from 1960 through 2004, with brief anomalies when Coloradans voted for LBJ in 1960 and Bill Clinton in 1992. By the 2004 presidential elections, Republicans owned the governor’s mansion, both Senate seats and five out of the seven members of the U.S. House. Within the space of two election cycles, however, the tide had turned completely. As of election night 2008, Democrats held the governor’s mansion, both U.S. Senate seats and the House delegation had flipped, with five of the seven congressional seats going to Democrats. Recent history has shown that such a fundamental shift in population and demographics would present a big challenge to Republicans. Yet, the recent announcement of two top-tier GOP candidates for statewide office has spawned a new optimism about the Centennial state. While far from sure things, Rep. Cory Gardner, who announced his candidacy for Senate, and former Rep. Bob Beauprez, who has announced his candidacy for governor, represent the best set of candidates Colorado has had since the Republican heyday in the early 2000s.” http://abcn.ws/1cCR1OK
@reidepstein: Anti-ACA Nebraska GOP Senate candidate advised firm implementing Obamacare http://politi.co/1gvPu8S
@HuffPostPol: Congresswoman urges colleagues to spend a night in a homeless shelter…like she did http://huff.to/1gpSiYL
@mviser: In today’s Globe: Nearly a year later and federal investigations of Boston Marathon bombings are still incomplete. http://b.globe.com/1m2aECU