By MICHAEL FALCONE (@michaelpfalcone)
- IT’S THAT TIME AGAIN: The three-day Conservative Political Action Conference kicks off today near Washington, DC. Think of it as an early Republican spring training for the 2016 presidential campaign — a chance for potential candidates to talk to conservative activists and for those activists to talk to each other about their early favorites. Organized by the American Conservative Union, the conference runs through Saturday and will feature some of the brightest stars in GOP politics. Every year the speakers serve up generous helpings of conservative red meat, and this week, a major foreign policy crisis will provide the backdrop. In today’s Note you’ll find a handy rundown of some of the highlights of the conference.
- TWO-THIRDS WOULD CONSIDER CLINTON AHEAD OF GOP PROSPECTS: Two-thirds of Americans in the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll say they’d consider supporting Hillary Clinton for president, far more than the current take-a-look numbers for a range of potential Republican candidates, writes ABC’s GREG HOLYK. Twenty-five percent of Americans say they’d “definitely” support Clinton if she ran for president and 41 percent say they would consider her. The rest, 32 percent, rule her out – fewer than did so in 2006-7, in advance of her losing run for the 2008 Democratic nomination. Some in the potential GOP herd start with bigger handicaps, including some marquee names: Forty-nine percent in this poll say they’d definitely not support Mitt Romney; 48 percent say the same about Jeb Bush (perhaps conflating him with his brother George, deeply unpopular in his second term). Thirty-eight to 40 percent rule out other notable Republicans, including Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Chris Christie, Mike Huckabee and Rick Perry. Fewer, 32 and 28 percent, respectively, rule out supporting Marco Rubio or the particularly little-known Scott Walker. http://abcn.ws/1nh9dyD
ABC’s RICK KLEIN: Maybe the nation agrees with Barbara Bush, who said this week it’s “ridiculous in a country this size” that the Bush and Clinton clans are so often producing top-ranking presidential contenders. But the new ABC News/Washington Post poll makes clear that you can’t quite equate those two family legacies, even if each has a 2016 frontrunner to offer up. Hillary Clinton is in a commanding position, with one-fourth of all Americans – not just Democrats – saying they will definitely support her for president in 2016. Thirty-two percent say they definitely won’t support her. Contrast that with Jeb Bush: A whopping 48 percent – nearly half the country – say they definitely won’t back him for president, with just 6 percent definitely on board. Only Mitt Romney elicits negative reactions on the same scale.
ABC’s JEFF ZELENY: It’s time for a vote. The Senate is poised to finally cast its judgment on a military sexual assault bill that would strip senior commanders of their authority to prosecute rapes and other assaults and put the responsibility in the hands of civilian courts. It’s been an epic fight, with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand leading the charge to remove prosecutions from the chain of command and Sen. Claire McCaskill, who’s pushing for reform but believes the cases should remain in the military’s hands. It is one of the few issues that have deeply divided the Senate — not because of partisan politics, but because of an actual policy dispute. The Pentagon strongly opposes the bill, but Gillibrand’s relentless pursuit of this major change is behind the vote finally set to take place this afternoon. She needs 60 votes to move the measure forward, a threshold that remains difficult to meet. When asked yesterday if she has the votes she said, “Yes… Hopefully.”
ABC’s SHUSHANNAH WALSHE : New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is addressing the conservative confab of CPAC this morning. He was snubbed last year, but a source close to Christie passed on some topics we are likely to hear from him today including that he will “draw on other Republican governors as examples of executives who have followed this brand of leadership – making tough decisions, not letting politics get in the way of doing the job and focusing on action instead of automatically defaulting to partisan rhetoric,” something they say will make a “sharp contrast” to DC. Christie was uninvited last year for a number of reasons, but one is because some activists don’t see him as sufficiently conservative enough. Today Christie will address that, speaking “about what it means to be a conservative Republican and about the importance of focusing on what we are for and not what we are against. The message: we can’t just be against something for the sake of being against it.” This is something Christie has touched on in other speeches to Republican audiences including to the RNC summer meeting last year. The source says the governor will “call on the audience and the party not to waste time with political arguments that do nothing to turn our ideas into results.” And another topic sure to get loud applause is he will tell the group “we need to stop letting the media define who we are and embracing the stereotypes perpetuated by political adversaries.” But, his answer may not be warmly received. He will “advocate the importance of doing what is uncomfortable, engaging unlikely allies and listening.”
CPAC AT A GLANCE
ABC’s MICHAEL FALCONE AND ERIN DOOLEY:
WHO’S GOING: All the GOP’s big guns — including ten potential presidential contenders — are scheduled to appear. Tea Party darling Sen. Ted Cruz will kick off the conference this morning at 9 a.m. 2012 vice presidential nominee Rep. Paul Ryan, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell will also speak today, as will New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who’s still mired in the bridge scandal. (Last year the organization decided not to invite the New Jersey governor at all). Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former presidential candidate Rick Santorum, Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul and ex-Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee will take the stage Friday. Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich and 2008 vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin are among those who speak Saturday. FULL AGENDA: http://www.cpac.org/schedule-events
WHO’S NOT GOING: Some pretty big names such as House Speaker John Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, who could be a 2016 presidential candidate, and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, another potential White House aspirant — just to name a few.
DEMOCRATS ARE WATCHING: Every year, CPAC seems to generate some sort of controversy. In 2013, for example, a CPAC attendee appeared to defend slavery during a panel discussion. Also last year, conference organizers prevented a Republican gay rights group from setting up a booth at the event. This year CPAC at first extended — but later rescinded — an invitation to an atheist organization that asked to sponsor a booth. Opposition researchers in Democratic war rooms around Washington will be keeping a close eye on the event, ready to pounce at a moment’s notice on any gaffe, blunder or controversial remark.
APOCALYPSE NOW? When they’re not listening to Republican movers and shakers, CPAC attendees will have their choice of a variety of panel discussions — some of which have an almost apocalyptic ring to them. “The American Dream vs. the Obama Nightmare: Income Inequality,” meets on Thursday to ask, “why has Obama given up on the American dream?” “The Death of American Privacy” will examine NSA surveillance, there’s also, “After Obama, Day 1: What Are the Big Alternative Ideas Conservatives Should Present as Obama’s Term Ends?” and “What’s the Deal with Global Warming?” will try to shed light on climate change. Other panels will examine the legalization of marijuana, immigration reform, gun control and the IRS political targeting controversy. There’s even a session called: “Not All Quiet on the Western Front: Conservatives Are Alive in Hollywood!’ featuring, among others, former Sen. Fred Thompson, who has had roles in both television and film and now may be best known as the star of reverse mortgage commercials.
‘BAD BOYS’ OF CPAC: Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Dick Cheney’s former adviser who in 2007 was convicted of perjury and obstruction of justice, is slated to participate in a CPAC panel on alternatives to President Obama policies. Oliver North, a former National Security Council staffer embroiled in the Iran Contra affair, will also make remarks. Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative author who was recently indicted for violating campaign finance laws, will speak about celebrity Republicanism.
GETTING SOCIAL: Although Democrats led on the technology front during the 2008 and 2012 elections cycles, Republicans are determined to catch up. CPAC will try to get them up to speed with panels like “Social Media 3.0: The Next Revolution Will Start on Your Phone (Let’s Hope Conservatives Don’t Miss It).” The conference will host a plethora of social media workshops, covering Facebook, Twitter, digital budgeting and data analytics, email fundraising, “crowd speaking” and digital video and blogging. (For lingering traditionalists, there’s a discussion called “Winning the Old-Fashioned Way.”)
THE LIGHTER SIDE: For CPAC attendees looking to take a load off, the massive conference will screen nine movies over the course of three days, all sponsored by the influential conservative group, Citizens United. The political flicks include “Occupy Unmasked,” a film highlighting the more violent aspects of the Occupy Wall Street movement, “The Determinators,” examining the effects of Obamacare, “Nine Days that Changed the World,” a Newt Gingrich production that celebrates the canonization of Pope John Paul II, “Border War: The Battle Over Illegal Immigration,” “The Empire State Divide,” and “Our Sacred Honor,” introduced by presidential candidate turned film company CEO Rick Santorum.
–AMERICAN BRIDGE HITS CPAC’S WOMEN GAP. The Democratic super PAC, American Bridge 21st Century, is out with a new graphic highlighting what they say is a heavy skew toward male speakers at the Conservative Political Action Conference. By American Bridge’s calculations just 12 percent of CPAC speakers are women, 88 percent are men. “With only three women confirmed to speak at this year’s conference, the message from the self-proclaimed ‘conservative agenda-setting event of the year’ to women voters is clear: the Republican Party isn’t listening,” said American Bridge communications director Gwen Rocco. “American Bridge will be closely following this year’s conference and pointing out when CPAC speakers’ rhetoric on women’s issues doesn’t match their record.” GRAPHIC: http://ab21.org/1lzPrjs
–DEMOCRATIC CONGRESSIONAL COMMITTEE MOCKS CPAC WITH MOCK SCHEDULE. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee is riffing on CPAC’s extensive schedule of events, providing their own take on the proceedings at the three-day conference. The DCCC’s mock schedule includes the following: “Session Title: Subsidies vs. Loopholes: Debating the Ultimate Donor Reward Speakers: The Hon. Kevin McCarthy (CA-23). Session Title: Why Social Security is Really a Ponzi Scheme. Speakers: The Hon. Joe Heck (NV-03), The Hon. Mike Coffman (CO-06), Congressional Candidate Steve Lonegan (NJ-03). Session Title: Hot Mic Awareness in a Blind Rage. Speakers: The Hon. Michael Grimm (NY-11).” Josh Schwerin of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee said, “It really is a testament to the Republican Party that they are putting their stars on display and not letting a few controversies and failures — let alone mainstream America — get in their way. … This schedule of CPAC events puts their most controversial and attention-grabbing leaders front and center to set the agenda leading up to the midterm elections.” http://bit.ly/1ieQKnE
CLINTON: PUTIN ISN’T HITLER, HE’S JUST USING HITLER’S ‘TACTICS’. Russian President Vladimir Putin isn’t exactly like Adolf Hitler, he’s just doing a lot Hitler-like things, Hillary Clinton said yesterday by way of clarifying her earlier comments that suggested a comparison between the Russian leader and the Nazi dictator, ABC’s ABBY PHILLIP reports. “I’m not making a comparison certainly,” Clinton said yesterday in remarks at UCLA’s College of Letters and Sciences. “But I am recommending that we can perhaps learn from this tactic that has been used before.” Clinton first raised the similarities between Hitler’s actions in the 1930-s and Putin’s current occupation of Crimea, a region of Ukraine, at a Tuesday fundraiser during a two-day California swing . “Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30s,” she said, according to a report in the Long Beach Press Telegram. “All the Germans that were … the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.” http://abcn.ws/1q8aFFY
WHITE HOUSE EXTENDS ‘KEEP YOUR PLAN’ FIX FOR OBAMACARE. The Obama administration is allowing people to keep their health care plans that don’t comply with the standards of the Affordable Care Act for another two years, putting off a political hurdle for Democrats until after the midterm elections, ABC’s MARY BRUCE and CHRIS GOOD note. Facing growing opposition from his own party, President Obama announced a transition plan last fall that allowed Americans who were losing their coverage because it didn’t comply with the requirements of the Affordable Care Act to keep their plans for up to a year before being forced into coverage that meets the new standards. Yesterday, the administration said it would extend that transition plan for two years to policies issued up to October 1, 2016, allowing consumers to renew their 2013 plans for two more years. “We’re extending this to give people more opportunity to make a judgment about the kind of coverage that works best for them and their families,” a senior administration official told reporters on a conference call. http://abcn.ws/1f0DG1T
HOUSE TAKES 50TH VOTE TO CHANGE ‘OBAMACARE’. While the president once again makes changes to his signature legislative achievement, House Republicans continue targeting the health care law, casting their 50th vote yesterday to tweak it since seizing majority control in 2011, ABC’s JOHN PARKINSON reports. The vote passed 250 to 160 with 27 Democrats crossing the aisle to vote with the GOP majority. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the bill, known formally as “Suspending the Individual Mandate Penalty Law Equals Fairness Act,” would enact a one-year delay of Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate, changing the penalty for failing to buy health insurance from $95, or one percent of income, to zero. Of the 50 health-care related votes, Obama has signed seven changes into law, but none since winning a second term. http://abcn.ws/1q7VKLM
A TALE OF TWO BUSHES: ONE RUNS ON HIS NAME, THE OTHER … NOT SO MUCH. You might say George P. Bush, the newly-minted Republican nominee for Texas Land Commissioner, is making a name for himself in politics, notes ABC’s ERIN DOOLEY. George P. Bush, grandson of former President George H. W. Bush and son of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, swept Tuesday’s statewide primary and is expected to easily win the general election in November. Some say George P. Bush’s experience as an attorney and an investor is what qualifies him for the position, which entails managing billions of dollars in mineral rights. Others say his surname is his real asset. In Texas, the Bush name graces an airport in Houston, a turnpike in Dallas, two elementary schools, a high school, a courthouse, a library, the owner’s box at Rangers Ballpark and a special species of bluebonnet, the Texas state flower. The Bush name may play locally, but nationally, recent polls have shown that Americans have Bush fatigue, which may explain why George P. Bush’s father, Jeb Bush, seems to see it as a potential stumbling block to any national political aspirations. “It’s an issue, for sure,” the former Florida governor, who could be a candidate for president in 2016, acknowledged recently. From a national perspective, a Jeb Bush candidacy – and, by extension, presidency – could be seen as a continuation of his brother’s White House years, essentially a third Bush term. Even Jeb Bush’s mother, former first lady Barbara Bush, has her doubts. Last year, she declared that there have been “enough Bushes” in the White House. http://abcn.ws/NWTW9q
WHAT WE’RE READING
“S.A. EDUCATION INITIATIVES CAN SPREAD,” an Op-Ed in the San Antonio Express-News by San Antonio mayor Julián Castro. “Brainpower is the new currency of success in the 21st century global economy. The cities that foster it will thrive. The ones that don’t will fall further behind. That’s why an increasing number of mayors in America’s leading cities are focusing on education as much as traditional infrastructure like streets and drainage. … My tenure in politics has been devoted to finding solutions to the fixable problems, understanding that success in life begins with a high-quality public education. In doing so, it is important to remember that to effect change on the national level, we must begin on the local level — in our homes, our neighborhoods and our cities. Access to a high quality education will broaden the horizons of our children and positively impact the future of the United States. It’s in that spirit that I’ve joined my fellow mayors from Denver, Providence, R.I., and Sacramento, Calif., in the Mayors for Educational Excellence Tour. This week, on Thursday and Friday, I will host them in San Antonio. … Attendees will walk away with a greater understanding of how they can implement the same kinds of innovation in their own cities. Early childhood education, targeted mentoring programs for middle school students and a commitment to all high school students that they’ll be supported as they prepare for college: these are the ways forward.” Read Castro’s full Op-Ed: http://bit.ly/1kzAuhl
@mattklewis: Rand Paul’s challenge: What if foreign policy becomes the dominant issue? http://bit.ly/1l5xpTj
@JimAcostaCNN: Senior admin official: visa ban includes Russians and Ukrainians. Exec order on sanctions does not list specific individuals or entities.