By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )
1. DOES THE SCANDAL STILL MATTER? Chief among Christie's concerns is the Fort Lee lane closure scandal, which he said would have no impact on his political future. But three separate investigations into the affair are still in progress, and any revelations directly tying Christie to the closures would certainly be damning, according to Republican activists and observers in Iowa. "It's not a weight around his neck," said Craig Robinson, a former political director of the state Republican Party and political blogger. "If there's some hard concrete thing that ties him directly to it, that would hurt him."
2. HOW DO HIS GUBERNATORIAL BONA-FIDES STACK UP? Christie isn't the only governor on the Republican presidential shortlist with a record to sell. Wisconsin's Gov. Scott Walker wrested collective bargaining from public sector unions; under Gov. John Kasich, Ohio has created roughly 240,000 new jobs since 2011. In New Jersey, Christie is taking heat for the new state budget that shorts the state's pension system by $1.57 billion to cover revenue shortfalls-a pension system the governor promised to fix in his first term.
3. DO HAWKEYE STATE VOTERS THINK HE HAS A WINNING PERSONALITY? Christie, who has been criticized for his leadership, told ABC News in March that people appreciate his blunt persona. "I am who I am," Christie said. "At core, I am a passionate, loving, caring, direct, truth teller. And for some people, they love it."
4. IS CHRISTIE TOO MODERATE TO PLAY IN IOWA? Activists and observers are divided on Christie's appeal in Iowa, where more Tea Party-oriented members of the GOP pack like Walker and Sens. Ted Cruz, R-Tex., and Rand Paul, R-KY, enjoy support. "There's no clamor for Christie to get in with the grassroots," said Jim Kirkpatrick, a 30-year Iowa Republican activist. Christie, who has been characterized as a centrist, would have to tap into the mainstream Republican vein of the state party, and excite moderate Republicans enough to spark caucus participation.
5. IS CHRISTIE READY FOR A PRESIDENTIAL RUN? While Christie has said that he plans to wait until 2015 to decide on a White House bid, the rest of the pack has wasted little time jockeying for position. Paul, who recently hired top New Hampshire and Iowa strategists to his RAND PAC, has spent the past month clarifying his foreign policy views and launching broadsides at Texas Gov. Rick Perry on immigration. Christie, on the other hand, has repeatedly refused to weigh in on certain national political issues over the past week, and told CNBC Wednesday that doing so would be "immature."
EXCLUSIVE: FEDS STRUGGLING TO COPE WITH MEDICAL 'BREAKDOWN' AT THE BORDER. The federal government is so overwhelmed by the current tide of migrants crossing the border it can't provide basic medical screening to all of the children before transporting them - often by air - to longer-term holding facilities across the country, ABC's JIM AVILA, JOSH MARGOLIN and SERENA MARSHALLreport. The director of refugee health in the federal Health and Human Services Department "has identified a breakdown of the medical screening processes at the Nogales, Arizona, facility," according to an internal Department of Defense memo reviewed by ABC News. The "breakdown" a systemic failure of the handoff of these children between CBP and HHS. Inside the government, officials are sounding alarms, fearing that they and their teams who come in contact with the sick children face potential exposure to infectious diseases from chicken pox to influenza, including rare cases of H1N1, more commonly called swine flu. Two unaccompanied children were flown from Nogales to California despite having 101-degree fevers and flu-like symptoms, according to the Department of Defense memo. Those children had to be hospitalized. The memo said pointedly that officials in charge of moving the immigrants from Border Patrol processing centers to Health and Human Services facilities are "putting sick [fevers and coughing] unaccompanied children on airplanes inbound for [Naval Base Ventura County] in addition to the chicken pox and coxsackie virus cases." http://abcn.ws/1pdeGGJ Watch JIM AVILA's "Good Morning America" report: http://abcn.ws/1mkbMgo
ABC's RICK KLEIN: Forget Christie in Iowa - or don't, since that promises to be a good show, too. The most interesting bit of presidential positioning this week may be taking place in Maryland, where Gov. Martin O'Malley is engaged in a public spat with the Obama White House over its handling of the immigration crisis. "We are Americans, and we do not return refugee kids who find themselves on our doorstep back into war-torn or famine-racked places where they will face certain death," O'Malley told The Washington Post. The White House's decision to respond - pointing out that he opposed placing immigrant children at a particular facility in a conservative pocket of Maryland - has given O'Malley only more of an opportunity to put daylight between himself and President Obama. Depending on how memories are shaped of the handling of the current crisis, this is an intra-party feud we may hear about again. http://wapo.st/1mUCNv7
ABC's MARY BRUCE: Under fire for his handling of a host of foreign policy challenges, President Obama came into the briefing room last night in an apparent attempt to reassure the public of his leadership. In hastily announced remarks, Obama offered a status update on a range of issues, including the Afghan elections, negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, and the escalating violence in the Middle East. "Over the past two weeks, we've all been heartbroken by the violence, especially the death and injury of so many innocent civilians in Gaza - men, women and children who were caught in the crossfire," Obama said. "That's why we have been working with our partners in the region to pursue a cease-fire, to protect civilians on both sides." While the president touched on a range of issues, the only thing new in his roughly seven-minute-long speech was his announcement of expanded sanctions against Russia for its intervention in Ukraine. The president has been plagued this week by negative press hammering his foreign policies. "Obama Contends With Arc of Instability Unseen Since '70s" read a Wall Street Journal headline Monday. "Overseas and at home, the administration seems besieged and befuddled," charged a Washington Post editorial. It's hard not to think the president's wide-ranging remarks yesterday were in response.
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie will make his first trip to Iowa today in two years, testing the early waters of the state that gets to make the first choice in the presidential contest. He's going as chairman of the RGA, mainly to raise funds for Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, but he's not been shy in discussing his interest in the top job and that will outshine any other reason he may be in the Hawkeye State today. Although he might not be as overt as his likely opponents-with Sen. Rand Paul hiring operatives in Iowa and New Hampshire-yesterday in an interview with CNBC, Christie said his higher name recognition means he can stay out of the race longer, deciding at the "end of this year, beginning of next." He even got a dig in, aiming directly at potential rivals who are making those more overt moves saying, "The fact is that you should beware of people, in my opinion, who are overanxious to make that decision before they need to. That would indicate to me ambition before wisdom. And I don't think that's what you want from the person sitting in the oval office." 2016 sure feels just around the corner.
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING
CAN YOU BE GAY, PRO-CHOICE, AND REPUBLICAN? MEET THE CONGRESSIONAL CANDIDATE PROVING IT'S POSSIBLE. Carl DeMaio is openly gay, supports abortion rights, and says that climate change is a problem that demands bold solutions from the government. He also happens to be the Republican candidate for Congress in California's 52 nd District. Despite standing in opposition to many of the GOP's core principles, DeMaio insists that he's a conservative to his core. "I represent the new generation that is coming up," DeMaio told ABC's RICK KLEIN and YAHOO's OLIVIER KNOX, hosts of "Top Line" in an interview, stressing that his positions are anchored in the Republican Party's historical foundation. "I actually believe that I reflect the traditional roots of the Republican Party," DeMaio said. "If you go back decades, you'll find Teddy Roosevelt was one of the first conservationists in this country, and you see a party that traditionally supports economic freedom." But DeMaio sees serious flaws in the Republican Party as it stands today, locked in a feud between the establishment and tea party wings. WATCH: http://yhoo.it/UcaFbR
14 FOR 14: THE MIDTERM MINUTE
ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: It's been over three weeks since six-term incumbent Sen. Thad Cochran won the run-off for the Mississippi GOP Senate primary, but his opponent State Sen. Chris McDaniel has not conceded. He's promised to keep fighting for what he sees as a stolen election, but has not presented any evidence to back up that claim. In a press conference Wednesday, State Sen. Michael Watson-a member of his team-said of a legal challenge, "That may come, but that day is not here right now," adding if McDaniel does not "see enough evidence to mount a challenge to this election he won't do it." However, later in the same press conference McDaniel's attorney Mitch Tyner said, "We expect to file a challenge in the next ten days." As for actual evidence of election wrongdoing, Tyner said he hoped to present some yesterday, but it was not ready. Tyner did address McDaniel's political future and the more it looks to be dwindling the longer this gets drawn out, telling reporters McDaniel is more interested in "root(ing) out the problems," recalling that he told them, "I want integrity…if it destroys my political career, so be it." It was a press conference that was confusing at times, but this one point was crystal clear.
with ABC's SCOTT WILSON
OBAMA ANNOUNCES EXPANDED SANCTIONS AGAINST RUSSIA. The Obama administration is imposing new, deeper sanctions on Russia for its intervention in Ukraine, targeting Russian banks and energy and defense firms, ABC's ERIN DOOLEY reports. "Given its continued provocations in Ukraine, today I have approved a new set of sanctions on some of Russia's largest companies and financial institutions," President Obama announced during a brief statement in the White House briefing room yesterday. "I've repeatedly made it clear that Russia must halt the flow of weapons and fighters across the border into Ukraine, that Russia must urge separatists to release their hostages and support a ceasefire, that Russia needs to pursue internationally mediated talks and agree to meaningful monitors on the border - I've made this clear directly to Mr. Putin," he said. "So far, Russia has failed to take any of the steps that I mentioned." The sanctions were expanded in consultation with European allies, Obama said, noting that though the U.S. prefers diplomatic solutions, "we have to see concrete actions and not just words that Russia in fact is committed to trying to end this conflict." http://abcn.ws/1oYTJ3U
FBI PROBING LOST IRS EMAILS AS DOJ SETS TO DEFEND ITS INVESTIGATION. Amid a flurry of Republican calls for a special prosecutor to investigate the Internal Revenue Service's alleged targeting of conservative groups, the Justice Department is set to defend its own probe of the matter as exhaustive and sufficient during a House hearing Thursday on the department's response to the scandal, PIERRE THOMAS, MIKE LEVINE, JACK DATE, JACK CLOHERTY and JOHN PARKINSON report. A top Justice Department official will tell the hearing that the department is now looking at how some of former senior IRS official Lois Lerner's emails disappeared - a new area of inquiry, Attorney General Eric Holder told ABC News in an exclusive interview Friday. "We've expanded the scope of the IRS investigation to deal with these lost emails," Holder told ABC News' Pierre Thomas. Specifically, the Justice Department and FBI are looking into "the circumstances of the lost emails," Deputy Attorney General Jim Cole will tell a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee Thursday, according to excerpts of his prepared remarks provided to ABC News. http://abcn.ws/1jR6IFU
007-S SON INTERNS ON CAPITOL HILL. The son of 007 has made his way to Capitol Hill, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ notes. Actor Pierce Brosnan's son Dylan is interning this summer in Sen. Ed Markey's office. Pierce Brosnan, best known for playing the role of Bond, James Bond, posted several pictures around Washington two weeks ago, including one shot with his son, 17, and Markey, D-Mass., at the World War II Memorial. "Senator Ed Markey Dylan and I ….world war two memorial…reading the words aloud in the night," Brosnan wrote on Instagram. The two Brosnans also took a very James Bond-esque photo in front of the Supreme Court. http://abcn.ws/1jxSAAY
MARCO RUBIO ON LEBRON JAMES: 'UNIQUE TALENT' WILL BE ECONOMIC BOON FOR CLEVELAND. As a Miami resident and die-hard sports fan, Sen. Marco Rubio was among the disappointed south Floridians last week when LeBron James announced he'd be returning to Cleveland after four years with the Miami Heat, according to ABC's RICK KLEIN. But despite a confident Tweet predicting that Cleveland wouldn't snag James back, Rubio said the decision makes sense from James' perspective. He predicted that "King James" will have his number retired by the Heat and will be "very warmly welcomed" by Miami fans whenever he's back in town. "This was one of the things we were surprised about, but not in hindsight shouldn't have been," Rubio, R-Fla., said in the latest edition of the "Capital Games" podcast. "I think if LeBron James is going to make that move back, this is probably the right time to do it, given those young guys that he wants to play with over there - it's going to take them a couple of years to get ramped up," Rubio said. http://abcn.ws/1yrDVdO
OOPS: CONGRESSIONAL HOPEFUL MISTAKES YMCA CAMPERS FOR MIGRANTS. An Arizona Congressional candidate who is opposed to the country's immigration policies described the fear he saw on the faces of Central American migrant children in custody - and tweeted out a photo of kids on a bus headed for a YMCA camp, notes ABC's BENJAMIN SIEGEL. Adam Kwasman, a Republican state legislator running to represent Arizona's 1st Congressional district, tweeted a photo of a yellow school bus while attending a protest outside of Tucson, with the caption, "Bus coming in. This is not compassion. This is the abrogation of the rule of law." "I was able to actually see some of the children in the buses, and the fear on their faces … This is not compassion," Kwasman told the Arizona Republic. Turns out the children were not migrants, but campers headed to the YMCA's Triangle Y Ranch Camp, which offers horseback riding, archery, and rock climbing, among other activities. The buses of immigrant children never showed up, according to the Arizona Republic. http://abcn.ws/1rhhgAj
IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
COURTNEY STODDEN STRIPS DOWN ON CAPITOL HILL FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS. Wide-eyed interns and congressional staffers lined up on Capitol Hill Wednesday, awaiting the chance to sample a veggie dog served by animal activist and TV personality Courtney Stodden. In celebration of National Hot Dog Day, Stodden served up the soy-based frankfurters while wearing a bikini constructed of "nothing but strategically placed lettuce leaves," according to a news release from PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. PETA organized and sponsored Wednesday's "annual congressional veggie dog giveaway" in hopes of sending a message about what goes into making meat-based hot dogs. "I think that most people would get kind of sick if they would see what the pigs go through," Stodden told ABC's SCOTT WILSON and TOM GIUSTO. "I don't think it's asking a lot to have people consider what they're eating. I think it's asking a lot of an animal to be abused and to satisfy your own appetite." WATCH: http://abcn.ws/1yuu6Ms
@cbrentcolburn: Congrats to @DagVega44 on his incredible WH run & thank you from everyone in the Departments & Agencies that he helped over the years
?@mattbai: Boehner: right for the job, wrong for the moment http://news.yahoo.com/boehner-s-right-for-the-job-but-wrong-for-the-moment-082332998.html?soc_src=mediacontentsharebuttons … via @YahooNews
@PounderFile: Bloomberg: Hillary Clinton's 2016 Moves Echo Failed 2008 Campaign http://bloom.bg/1t7OUGu