Ronny Jackson withdraws as nominee for VA secretary
Ronny Jackson withdraws as nominee for VA secretary
Knives Come Out in Budget Battle
PHOTO: President Barack Obama is escorted by U.S. Speaker of the House John Boehner while leaving the Capitol, March 19, 2013, in Washington.

Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • BUDGET KNIVES COME OUT: This is something we've never seen from a Democratic president, ABC's Chief White House Correspondent JONATHAN KARL notes: "An official White House budget that includes cuts to both Social Security and Medicare. White House officials say the budget President Obama will unveil next week will included proposed cuts to Medicare (by increasing premiums for wealthier retirees) and Social Security (by reducing annual cost of living increases). The proposals themselves are not new - they were part of the ill-fated offer the President made to Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) during the December negotiations over the fiscal cliff - but they now part of the official White House budget. And that is a significant change that will open the President up to criticism from liberals and put pressure on Republicans to offer a response."
  • MORE FROM ABC'S JONATHAN KARL: "The White House claims the President's budget would reduce the deficit by $1.8 trillion over the next years. Combined with spending cuts and tax increases made over the past two years, that would bring total deficit reduction to $4.3 trillion. These cuts and revenue increases would also replace the spending cuts no in place under the sequester. Of course, the tax hikes are precisely why Republicans rejected the President's offer in December and there's no indication they will now agree to them. But by including the offer, the White House says it is sending a signal that the President is serious about reducing the deficit, even if it means cuts that are sure to upset the his liberal allies."
  • THIS WEEK ON "THIS WEEK": ABC's GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS speaks to Obama senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer, Sunday on "This Week." Plus, two powerhouse roundtables tackle all the week's politics, including rising tensions with North Korea and the battle over guns, immigration, and the economy, with ABC News' George Will and Martha Raddatz, The Huffington Post's Arianna Huffington, Fox News anchor Greta Van Susteren, David Sanger and Paul Krugman of The New York Times, and former Reagan budget director David Stockman. See the "This Week" page for full guest listings. Tune in Sunday:
  • ON THE AGENDA: President Obama will host faith leaders from around the country at an Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House in the East Room at 9:15 am ET. The president and Vice President Joe Biden will deliver remarks. The vice president will deliver remarks at the 2013 Annual Conference of the Export-Import Bank in Washington, DC this afternoon.


ABC's RICK KLEIN: Presidents' budgets are often best viewed as prop-up-your-computer-monitor tools, particularly in a second term. But early signs are that President Obama's long-delayed proposal constitutes an intriguing gambit, if not necessarily a realistic blueprint that stands a chance at congressional approval. By putting in black and white (and still plenty of red ink) proposed cuts to Social Security and Medicare benefits, he's signaling that the deals he's gotten so close to striking in the past are still very much on the table. The nation's fiscal fights need a game-changer, and this just might be it. Watch, as always, blowback on the left; a meltdown, or a sustained scorching of the president's ideas, would leave Obama isolated at the moment he needs his troops.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Hillary Clinton will speak at Newsweek-Daily Beast's "Women in the World" Conference this morning in New York City. As with every move she makes, speech she gives, board she joins, or book she writes the coverage and scrutiny will be extensive. Everyone is listening for that one hint, that one nod that she will give it a go in 2016. She not only casts the biggest shadow over the next presidential race, but she also wields the biggest megaphone which will give voice to the causes she lends herself to over the next few years. Causes that include helping women and children in developing countries and here at home. She also holds the rest of the Democratic field at bay. As we wonder about Maryland's Martin O'Malley or New York's Andrew Cuomo, all eyes will truly be on Hillary Clinton.

ABC's DEVIN DYWER: Is President Obama's North Korea strategy working? "The Obama administration is doing the predictable things very well," Michael O'Hanlon, a senior fellow and foreign policy analyst at Brookings Institution, told me this morning. "It doesn't take much creativity to have done what they've done, but they have been firm, they have been clear, they have developed a decent working relationship with the Chinese and the Russians on this." As for the bout of belligerence that's been tough to break, O'Hanlon said it may be time for the U.S. to "use some imagination." "We might want to try to find a slightly more flexible form of sanctions," he said, one that can give Kim Jong Un an "out" down the road if his behavior improves.

ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: Scott Brown may be a New Hampshire homeowner, a Granite State taxpayer for over 20 years and someone who considers the state a "second home," as he said last night while stoking speculation about a potential Senate run there. But the former Massachusetts senator should take note: If he chooses to mount a bid to challenge Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen in 2014, he's likely going to have company from several Republicans who probably won't hesitate to label him a carpetbagger. First, there is the man who lost his Senate seat to Shaheen in 2008 - John E. Sununu - and who is rumored to be considering a bid to re-capture it. Then there are two former members of Congress, Frank Guinta and Jeb Bradley, who could also challenge the popular Shaheen. And there are several other wildcards who could make for credible contenders. But time is of the essence for the GOP, as Political Director James Pindell recently observed: "Every day where Republicans don't have a candidate to run for the U.S. Senate in New Hampshire, Democratic incumbent Jeanne Shaheen gets an even bigger head start."


FORMER LABOR SECRETARY HILDA SOLIS JOINS HARVARD INSTITUTE OF POLITICS BOARD. What's a former Obama Administration cabinet official to do? In Hilda Solis's case, the answer is: Join a prestigious committee at Harvard University. The Harvard Institute of Politics is announcing today that it is adding the former Labor Secretary to its ranks as a member of its Senior Advisory Committee. Solis, who served as U.S. Labor Secretary from 2009 until she stepped down in January, will be joining a high-profile group who also sit on the advisory panel, including former top Obama adviser David Axelrod; former New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman; former Iowa Sen. John C. Culver; and former Labor Secretary Elaine Chao."Hilda Solis is an inspiring public servant," Harvard Institute of Politics Senior Advisory Committee Chair Caroline Kennedy said in a statement. "She has had an outstanding career in state and national politics working to bring justice to those who are too often marginalized." Institute of Politics Director Trey Grayson, a former Kentucky Secretary of State, called Solis "dedicated and broadly experienced" and said, "I am sure Secretary Solis will help ensure that IOP programs and initiatives are even more engaging and effective." The Institute of Politics is housed at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.


HEAD V. HEART: HOW SUPREME COURT JUSTICES WRESTLE WITH TOUGH DECISIONS. When the Supreme Court takes on a politically heated case, as it recently did with two cases involving gay marriage, the justices are more likely to listen to their heads over their hearts. So say Tim O'Brien and Martin Clancy, veteran journalists and authors of the new book "Murder at the Supreme Court." "The justices often vote the law as opposed to their own feelings," former ABC News producer Martin Clancy tells ABC's RICK KLEIN AND YAHOO's! OLIVIER KNOX. "I mean time and time again, we've discovered in notes of Supreme Court conferences where justices are really conflicted." Clancy and O'Brien's book looks specifically at how the Supreme Court has wrangled with the death penalty historically, but the book also sheds light into how the justices avoid getting personal opinions involved in their rulings. WATCH:


MICHELLE OBAMA, 'SINGLE MOTHER'? First Lady Michelle Obama slipped up in an interview Thursday and accidentally called herself a "single mother." "Believe me, as a busy single mother - or, I shouldn't say single, as a busy mother. Sometimes, you know, when you've got a husband who is president, it can feel a little single. But he's there," Mrs. Obama told Vermont's CBS affiliate WCAX. "But as a busy working mom, and before coming to the White House, I was in that position, you know, as well. Working, driving kids to practice, not having enough time to shop or cook, not having the energy, you know, the resources weren't the issue but time and energy is key," she added. WATCH:

SCOTT BROWN WON'T RULE OUT NEW HAMPSHIRE SENATE BID. Former Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown told reporters last night that he is not ruling out a run for Senate in the neighboring state of New Hampshire in 2014, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ, MICHAEL FALCONE and ELIZABETH HARTFIELD report. Asked whether he is considering a challenge to Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, Brown said he is still "recharging the batteries" but noted, "I'm not going to rule out anything right now," according to an audio recording of the former senator's remarks to reporters obtained by ABC News. The Associated Press was the first to report Brown's comments. Brown was speaking at a dinner commemorating the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in Nashua, N.H. Thursday evening. Afterward, he described the Granite State as "a second home" to him, a notion he's been pushing more often recently. And it just so happens to be true. In a 2011 interview with the Portsmouth, N.H. Herald, Brown described his background in the state. "I was born at the Navy base in Kittery, my grandparents lived in Newington and they're buried in Portsmouth," Brown said in the interview. "I was going to Hoyt's Cabins in Rye with my grandmother from when I was 6 years old." He and his wife still own a summer home in Rye, New Hampshire where he once said he planned to retire. "I have a house here," Brown said on Thursday. "I've been a taxpayer for 20 years."

COMING ATTRACTIONS: Brown noted that he planned to return to New Hampshire several more times in the next few weeks, including to be the keynote speaker at the Grafton County Republican Committee's Lincoln-Reagan Luncheon on April 20. He will also headline the Cheshire County Republican Committee' Lincoln Day Dinner on May 3.

REACTION: The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee was evidently nonplussed by Brown's comments on Thursday. "Is it possible to quote someone laughing?" asked the committee's national spokesman Justin Barasky. And New Hampshire Democratic Party Communications Director Harrell Kirstein said of Brown, "His record of standing up for Wall Street instead of Main Street didn't work six months ago in Massachusetts and it won't work in New Hampshire any time soon."

ABC'S JON KARL, AMATEUR HISTORIAN: While it is highly unusual for somebody to represent two different states in Congress, it is not without precedent. In fact one of the most celebrated members of Congress ever - Daniel Webster - was elected from both Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Several senators have represented two states and one - the legendary James Shields - holds a record that will stand forever: Representing three different states in the Senate (Illinois, Minnesota and Missouri).

NORTH CAROLINA WON'T ESTABLISH STATE RELIGION. It turns out North Carolina won't be establishing its own religion after all, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports. A resolution proposed this week by GOP state lawmakers that said the state has the right to declare an official religion will never come to a vote. The legislation, House Joint Resolution 494, filed Monday by two GOP legislators and co-signed by 12 others, says the Supreme Court cannot block a state "from making laws respecting an establishment of religion." But on Thursday, House Speaker Thom Tillis' said the resolution was dead, according to WRAL. The bill was initially filed in response to a lawsuit filed last month by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, which, the ACLU said, opened 97 percent of its meetings in 2007 with explicitly Christian prayers. Filing the lawsuit on behalf of three residents, the ACLU wrote in a press release, "the commissioners, who deliver the prayers themselves, routinely call on Jesus Christ and refer to other sectarian beliefs during invocations."

ANOTHER DEMOCRATIC SENATOR FLIPS ON GAY MARRIAGE. Another Senate Democrat has come out in support of same-sex marriage, which leaves six Senate Democratic holdouts who have yet to embrace marriage equality. Yesterday, ABC's SUNLEN MILLER reports, Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., announced that he now supports same-sex marriage. The senator made the announcement during an interview today with the Tampa Bay Times, saying, "It is generally accepted in American law and U.S. society today … that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. I believe that. The civil rights and responsibilities for one must pertain to all," he told the Tampa Bay Times.

AND THEN THERE WERE SIX… This marks the ninth Senate Democrat since last week to reverse course and now embrace same-sex marriage. The six Senate Democrats who continue to oppose marriage equality in some way are Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and Tim Johnson of South Dakota. Two Republican senators have endorsed same-sex marriage: Rob Portman of Ohio and Mark Kirk of Illinois.

OBAMA CALLS CALIFORNIA ATTORNEY GENERAL 'BEST LOOKING.' President Obama assessed the beauty of California's attorney general Kamala Harris, calling her "the best looking attorney general," during remarks at a fundraiser in Atherton, California yesterday, notes ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ. "You have to be careful to, first of all, say she is brilliant and she is dedicated and she is tough, and she is exactly what you'd want in anybody who is administering the law, and making sure that everybody is getting a fair shake. She also happens to be by far the best-looking attorney general in the country - Kamala Harris is here." "It's true! C'mon," he said as the crowd laughed, according to a report provided by a print reporter at the home of John Goldman, an heir to the Levi-Strauss fortune. "And she is a great friend and has just been a great supporter for many, many years. She's brilliant and she's dedicated," Obama said at a luncheon fundraiser benefiting the DNC. Harris has served as California's attorney general since 2011 and is a rising star for Democrats. She is often mentioned as a potential candidate for governor.

JAMES CARVILLE 'READY FOR HILLARY.' The 2016 presidential race is still a few years away, but James Carville believes sooner is better than later, notes ABC's ANJULI SASTRY. In an email blast from the Ready for Hillary super PAC Thursday morning, the Democratic strategist issued a rallying cry for a Hillary Clinton 2016 presidential run and urged members to take an "I'm Ready for Hillary Pledge." "Hillary had to give up all of her political organizing activities when she became secretary of state. That means it's up to us to build this thing from the ground up," Carville said in the email. "We owe it to Hillary to start putting the building blocks of her campaign together now. The modern political campaign demands it." The email was sent out on the same day it was announced that Clinton had inked a book deal about her experiences as secretary of state, tentatively set to be published in June 2014. Carville, a long-time supporter of the Clinton family, managed Bill Clinton's 1992 presidential campaign.


-"MARK ZUCKERBERG IMMIGRATION GROUP'S STATUS: STUMBLING," by Politico's Reid J. Epstein. "The immigration reform group that will be Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's entry into politics was supposed to launch as early as next week with a lot of fanfare, support and money - but the person leading the effort is already hitting unlike on its launch plan. That plan, sent to board members and staff, was written by Joe Green - one of Zuckerberg's Harvard roommates and the man the young billionaire tapped to lead his group. But before the group's unveiling, Green has apologized for the plan's phrasing and several claims which he now says aren't right. The prospectus, obtained Thursday by POLITICO, states that Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Silicon Valley investor Marc Andreessen are founding members of a group named 'Human Capital' and details how the technology executives would use their companies to 'control the avenues of distribution' for a political message in support of their efforts. … Gates and Andreessen, however, are not yet signed on to the Zuckerberg group, according to a source familiar with its operation. The group will also not be operating under the name 'Human Capital,' as Green advertised in the prospectus. And they're now denying that the high-tech executives involved will use their companies to promote their message, which could have run them into trouble with broadcasting and campaign finance laws."

-"MARYLAND'S LEFTWARD SWING," by the Washington Post's Paul Schwartzman. "Benefits for illegal immigrants. Same-sex marriage. Strict regulations on gun purchases. Over the past two years, Maryland has enacted laws that represent a dramatic liberal shift, even for a state long dominated by Democrats. Driving the progressive swing is Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) and the Maryland General Assembly, which now embraces legislation that it previously rejected. Emboldened by victories in statewide referendums, the governor and his allies have imposed tax increases, repealed the death penalty and approved a system to provide more than $1 billion in subsidies to a potential offshore wind farm. Now, as the legislative session in Annapolis comes to an end, the state faces the question of whether Maryland is becoming a reliably liberal bastion like Massachusetts, California and Vermont. Or has the state's Democratic leadership moved too far to the left, potentially endangering incumbents at the polls in 2014?"


@JohnJHarwood: Just 88K jobs added in March - way below 200K forecasts #disappointing

@ LindseyGrahamSC: I look forward to co-hosting a couple events for @MarkSanford later this month. I get to tell #MarkIsThrifty stories again! #SC1 #sctweets

@BlairMiller: Here's my online report w/ some of my exclusive interview with @MayorFoxx & his decision not to seek reelection …

@ron_fournier: #Obama budget: "Washington is edging closer to a budget deal, thanks to a gutsy change in strategy at the WH"

@bykowicz: Are way more law enforcement types getting shot to death, or is the national media now just reporting every single killing, trend style?

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