The Note's Must-Reads for Thursday, March 13, 2014

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

Compiled by ABC News' Jayce Henderson, Will Cantine and Janine Elliot

UKRAINE ABC News' Mary Bruce: " Cold War-Style Message to Putin: Obama Meets With Ukraine Leader - Who Channels Reagan" In a symbolic White House meeting with Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk of Ukraine today, President Obama said the U.S. and the international community reject the "slap-dash referendum" on the future of Crimea and warned Russia not to deal with Ukraine "with the barrel of a gun."Yatsenyuk urged Russia to pull back its forces and engage in diplomatic negotiations. "Mr. Putin, tear down this wall," he said, as he emerged from the White House, "the wall of war, intimidation, and military aggression. Let's talk." Yatsenyuk's quote played off President Reagan's famous Cold War-era call for Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall that divided the eastern and western blocs. LINK

Wall Street Journal's Carol E. Lee and Jay Solomon: " U.S. Pushes Last-Ditch Effort to Ease Ukraine Crisis" The U.S. launched a last-ditch effort Wednesday to avert a potentially costly diplomatic crisis with Moscow ahead of a vote Sunday in Crimea on whether the region should leave Ukraine and return to Russia. Top Obama administration officials sought to ramp up the pressure on Moscow even as they braced for a possible diplomatic failure. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said Russia "may well" end up annexing the restive region, and began to focus on steps Moscow could take to slow the process. LINK

The Hill's Erik Wasson: " Congress tells Ukraine: The US can't get aid package done" Congress will fail to approve an aid package to Ukraine before a Sunday referendum in Crimea, where voters will decide whether to break away from Kiev's government to join Vladimir Putin's Russia. While a Senate panel on Wednesday approved legislation in a bipartisan vote, aides said differences between the House and Senate will prevent Congress from completing its work before lawmakers leave Washington on Friday for a weeklong recess. LINK

The New York Times' Peter Baker and Michael R. Gordon: " Obama Makes Diplomatic Push To Defuse Crisis In Ukraine" President Obama and Ukraine's interim prime minister opened the door on Wednesday to a political solution that could lead to more autonomy for Crimea if Russian troops withdraw, as the United States embarked on a last-ditch diplomatic effort to defuse a crisis that reignited tensions between East and West. The tentative feeler came as Mr. Obama dispatched Secretary of State John Kerry to London to meet with his Russian counterpart on Friday, two days before a Russian-supported referendum in Crimea on whether to secede from Ukraine. Mr. Obama said the world would "completely reject" what he called a "slapdash election," but added he still hoped for a peaceful settlement. LINK

Bloomberg's Margaret Talev: " Obama Meets Ukraine Leader, Presses Putin To Back Down" Barack Obama called Russia's incursion into Crimea a violation of international law and told Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk that the U.S. stands with Ukraine to protect its sovereignty and territory. If Russian President Vladimir Putin doesn't change course, the U.S. and the international community "will be forced to apply a cost," Obama said after meeting with Yatsenyuk at the White House. "There's another path available." LINK

HEALTH CARE ACT / FLORIDA SPECIAL ELECTION ABC News' Jonathan Karl: " White House Press Secretary: Obamacare Not a Factor in Florida Loss" Democrats may have lost the first congressional election of 2014, but the White House insists the Democratic loss has nothing to do with Obamacare. "Any fair assessment of the role that the debate about the Affordable Care Act played reaches the conclusion that at best for the Republicans, it was a draw," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney of the special election to replace Rep. Bill Young, R-Fla., who died last year. So why did the better-known, better-funded Democratic candidate, Alex Sink, lose to an unimpressive Republican candidate who constantly hammered her over her support for the President's Affordable Care Act? LINK

Wall Street Journal's Patrick O'Connor: " GOP Win in Florida Highlights Health Law's Election Role" The Republican victory in a House race in Florida Tuesday threw fresh attention to the burden that Democratic candidates may carry this fall from the 2010 health-care law championed by their party.The law played a prominent role in the election, with Republican David Jolly and his allies attacking Democrat Alex Sink for supporting the Affordable Care Act. She argued that the law needed to be fixed, and that Mr. Jolly's call to repeal it would harm health care. Mr. Jolly won, by 48.5% to 46.7%, or less than 4,000 votes. LINK

Politico's Jake Sherman and Burgess Everett: " Florida Loss Exposes Democrats' Disarray On Obamacare" Democrats can't even agree whether Obamacare was the reason for their crushing loss in a Florida special election Tuesday. Now picture how their messaging plan for the health care law is shaping up for 2014. Republican lobbyist David Jolly's victory over Democrat Alex Sink has many Democrats privately worried and publicly split about how to talk about Obamacare. A few Democrats are advocating a drastic rhetorical shift to the left, by criticizing their own party for not going far enough when it passed the law in 2010. Other Democrats plan to sharply criticize the Affordable Care Act when running for re-election. LINK

The Washington Post's Paul Kane and Sean Sullivan: " Democrats Pinning Fla. Special Election Loss On Dismal Turnout Effort" Democrats spent Wednesday trying to explain away a disappointing loss in a Florida special congressional election that they had been expected to win. "The takeaway from the special in Florida is that Democrats will need to invest heavily in a national field program in order to win in November. Nearly 50,000 fewer people voted in the special than in the 2010 general election, a 21% drop off," officials at the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC) wrote in their daily morning memo. LINK

ATTY GENERAL ERIC HOLDER USA Today's Kevin Johnson: " Holder endorses reduced sentences for non-violent inmates" Attorney General Eric Holder on Thursday will endorse proposed reductions to federal sentencing guidelines for non-violent drug offenders, which would cut average prison sentences by 11 months. In testimony prepared for delivery before the U.S. Sentencing Commission, Holder said the changes would "rein in federal prison spending while focusing limited resources on the most serious threats to public safety." The changes, if adopted later this year, would reduce the federal prison population by an estimated 6,550 inmates in five years. Of the 216,000 inmates in the federal system, about half have been convicted of drug-related crimes. LINK

CIA SPY SCANDAL USA Today's David Jackson and Kevin Johnson: " Obama wants releases of CIA report" President Obama called Wednesday for release of a report on past CIA interrogation techniques that is at the heart of a dispute between the agency and the Senate that has wound up under Justice Department review. Accusations of misconduct between the Senate and the CIA have been referred to the "appropriate authorities and they are looking into it," Obama told reporters, declining further comment on any investigation. LINK

THE HOUSE The Los Angeles Times' Michael Memoli: " House passes GOP-backed bill aimed at Obama's 'imperial presidency'" The House passed the first of a pair of bills aimed at reining in what Republicans call a pattern of overreach by the executive branch under President Obama. Democrats decried the base-pleasing measure as a political stunt. Immigration reform advocates said it threatens the administration's deferred action deportation program. The legislation is a response to what Republicans say has been an "imperial presidency" under Obama - a term that one conservative lawmaker noted also fit the Nixon administration during the Watergate scandal. LINK

NRA The New York Daily News' Dan Friedman: " National Rifle Association wants to shoot down Obama's surgeon general pick" The National Rifle Association is working to shoot down President Obama's pick for surgeon general. Dr. Vivek Murthy is under fire from the pro-gun group and a slew of Senate Republicans for his outspoken assertions that gun violence constitutes a health problem, along with his past support for Obamacare. Murthy, 36, won support from just one Republican, Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), when the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee voted on his confirmation last month. LINK

MILITARY BENEFITS The Washington Times' Maggie Ybarra: " Military families would take a $5,000 hit in benefits with Obama budget" If President Obama and Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel get their way, a typical U.S. Army sergeant stands to lose up to $5,000 in annual benefits, according to a leading veterans group that is mobilizing for battle over the proposed cuts to the retirement, health care and other compensation offered to those who serve. The budget restructuring outlined by Mr. Hagel last month calls for a series of politically tricky compensation reductions that risk outraging active-duty and retired service members who signed up for duty with the belief that they could rely on a rock-solid pension system to help pay for expenses such as food, housing, health care and college tuition for their children. LINK

ABC NEWS VIDEO: " Lance Bass Visits The White House to Promote Obamacare" LINK " Ready, Set, Cook! Al Franken Brings Minnesota Hotdishes to D.C." LINK

BOOKMARKS The Note: LINK ABC News Politics: LINK George Stephanopoulos' Blog: LINK ABC News on Twitter: @ThisWeekABC | @ABCPolitics ABC News Mobile: LINK ABC News Apps: LINK ABC News YouTube: LINK

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