Strange Bedfellows Week In Washington
PHOTO: Sen. Joe Manchin becomes emotional as he meets in his office with families of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Conn., on the day he announced that they have reached reached a bipartisan deal on expanding background c

J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • GUN CONTROL'S DYNAMIC DUO: Sens. Joe Manchin and Pat Toomey announced a bipartisan compromise yesterday seeking to expand background checks for the sale of guns - both at gun shows and online - that could help break the impasse in the gun-control debate in Congress, ABC's JEFF ZELENY and SUNLEN MILLER report. "Today is the start of a healthy debate that must end with the Senate and House, hopefully, passing these commonsense measures and the president signing it into law," Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat, said. When asked by ABC News whether he was worried about risking his "A" ranking with the National Rifle Association, Toomey said: "What matters to me is doing the right thing. And I think it's the right thing." The agreement was also forged with Sens. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Mark Kirk, an Illinois Republican. Toomey, a Republican from Pennsylvania, said he was uncertain whether any other Republicans would support the bill. The compromise is not expected to be debated until next week.
  • HAPPENING TODAY: The Senate votes at 11 a.m. today on whether to proceed with the gun debate. The vote will technically and procedurally-speaking be a vote on "cloture." Sixty votes are needed to overcome the Republican filibuster and it looks likely that will be achieved.
  • FACEBOOK ADDS NEW FRIENDS: Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg announced the formation of his new political group in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post today. It's called ("Forward U.S.") and it's being backed by a who's who of names from the Silicon Valley and venture capital world. ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE reports that it's also being staffed and advised by a bipartisan group that includes former National Republican Senatorial Committee executive director Rob Jesmer, former Clinton administration White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart, Republican foreign policy adviser Dan Senor, former Democratic Governors Association communications director Kate Hansen and Republican political consultant Jon Lerner, among others. The group's major contributors include Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google; Reed Hastings, founder and CEO of Netflix; and Marissa Mayer, chief executive officer of Yahoo! and many other technology luminaries. In today's Op-Ed, Zuckerberg cites several initial policy goals, including: "comprehensive immigration reform," "higher standards and accountability in schools" and "investment in breakthrough discoveries in scientific research." The group's website:
  • LET THEM EAT STEAK: President Obama and Republican senators sat for a nearly three-hour steak dinner at the White House last night, ABC's MARY BRUCE and SUNLEN MILLER note. "The President enjoyed a constructive, wide-ranging discussion with Republican Senators that included reducing the deficit in a balanced way, reforming our broken immigration system and adopting common-sense measures to reduce gun violence," a White House official said. The twelve Republican senators who attended the dinner were Senator Johnny Isakson of Georgia, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Senator John Boozman of Arkansas, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho, Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, Senator Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah, Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, Senator John Thune of South Dakota, and Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi. "I commend the president for reaching out to us, as it is critically important that we communicate directly in order to find common ground," Isakson said in a statement following the meal.
  • RAND PAUL REACHES OUT: Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul conceded he had a "daunting task" yesterday when he set out to woo black students at Howard University in Washington, DC and proceeded to tell them that the Republican Party was the party of the civil rights movement. ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE notes that he won few converts, but he won some respect. "How did the party that elected the first black U.S. senator, the party that elected the first 20 African American congressmen become a party that now loses 95 percent of the black vote?" Paul asked the Howard students. "How did the Republican Party, the party of the Great Emancipator, lose the trust and faith of an entire race? From the Civil War to the Civil Rights Movement, for a century, most black Americans voted Republican. How did we lose that vote?" The last Republican to speak at the school, according to the university, was former RNC chairman Michael Steele in 2009 and before that in 2004 then-Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist received an honorary degree. In 1994, Colin Powell gave Howard University's commencement address. In 2000 George W. Bush declined the invitation to speak and Al Gore spoke instead.


ABC's JEFF ZELENY: The Senate vote on guns today will be the first, but far from the last. It's a significant hurdle, particularly given how quickly the filibuster threat by 13 Republicans faltered. But the vote today simple sets the stage for the real action next week when a flurry of gun amendments are considered. If anyone tells you they are certain of the outcome, don't believe them. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is entering uncertain territory when some gun amendments come to a vote. Finally, there is a key question looming over it all: WWSPD? What Will Speaker Boehner Do?

ABC's RICK KLEIN: Washington has a frustrating tendency to do nothing at all for months and then everything all at once. Suddenly, the agenda is so crowded that a Democratic president's call for entitlement cuts became an afterthought. Still, this is the most promising moment to date for President Obama's second-term agenda, with real, simultaneous movement on gun control and immigration reform. How the White House plays these next few weeks - the ordering, the coalition-building, the public pressure the president can bring to bear - will be critical to virtually everything the president wants to do in this congressional term. Not least of the questions is how the White House chooses to define victory in the major subject areas.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: If showing up is half the battle Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., may have gotten somewhere yesterday at Howard University. He may not have converted anyone in the crowd, but students who lined up to ask the potential 2016 GOP presidential candidate questions almost all thanked him for being there. Yes, there was a protester and an awkward moment when he seemed to be lecturing the college students about black history, but students ABC News spoke with after the speech said he earned some respect just for being there. Howard student John Crawford said Paul's explanation of why black voters historically should be Republicans amounted to "revisionist history," but he said he does think Paul will be able to woo some voters "just because he had the courage and integrity to come here." Kwanda Trice, a Howard graduate student from Paul's native Kentucky, said she has "to give him props" for coming to Howard. "This was a hard crowd, but he decided to come here and basically bridge the gap between African Americans and the Republican Party and that says a lot," Trice said. "To come here to Howard University where students are progressive, they are educated, they know the issues and they know the policies back and forth and to be able to actually face them head on I have to commend him for that."

BI-PARTISANSHIP BONUS ROUND: BACHMANN VS. FRANKEN COOK OFF. The Minnesota delegation came together yesterday for a cause dear to just about every Minnesotan: hotdish. ABC's JORDYN PHELPS notes that for the last three years, Sen. Al Franken has been hosting the "Annual Hotdish Off," as a way to bring the Minnesota delegation together in a bipartisan, bicameral kind of way. Every member of the delegation brings along their favorite variety of hotdish, a casserole dish popular in Minnesota, consisting of some variety of starch, meat, mixed in with soup and other ingredients. "It's a very neighborly thing to do, and it's a good excuse to get our delegation, the Minnesota delegation, both the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats, we like each other," Franken told ABC News. At yesterday cook-off, it was also clear that the casseroles can also cook up some heated rivalries. Franken recalled running into Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) in the halls of Congress recently, when Bachmann reportedly issued a hotdish threat in jest. "She said she was gunning for me," Franken said, dishing up the story to the rest of the delegation in a lighthearted moment. Bachmann quipped back to correct the senator, to the laughter of her fellow representatives: "What I said is: I am going to smoke you."


PAUL RYAN: WON'T HAND OUT VOTING CARD TO GET DEAL ON GUNS. With the Senate poised to start voting on its first gun measures of the year, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) says he is carefully watching the legislation, particularly the compromise reached on background checks with Senators Pat Toomey (R- Pa.) and Joe Manchin (D -W.Va.). Ryan and Toomey were elected to Congress at the same time and were roommates on Capitol Hill, but Ryan tells ABC's JEFF ZELENY he would not automatically follow his lead on guns. "I don't give my voting card based on someone's name. I vote for something if I think it's the right thing to do," Ryan said. Ryan said he's concerned that Congress will rush to legislate on guns and miss an opportunity to address related issues like mental illness. "We need to look at the root cause of these problems, and I hope that we can do that. I am worried that we won't," Ryan said. WATCH:


DEMOCRATS TAKE ON MCCONNELL. A Democratic National Committee official tells the Note: "We're continuing to ramp up our campaign to get the Senate and ultimately Congress to pass a common sense plan to curb gun violence. We released a video yesterday, sent emails to our list to generate calls to five top Senate targets (McCain, Coats, Heller, Collins, Isakson). Today we are launching a website and tool targeting Mitch McConnell and the NRA caucus which is attempting to filibuster the bill"


BIDEN: PUBLIC IS 'FAR AHEAD' OF POLITICIANS ON GUN CONTROL. Vice President Joe Biden said this morning that gun control, like immigration and marriage equality, is an issue where the people have been "far ahead" of the politicians. "This is one of the cases where the public is so far ahead of the elected officials. I mean so far ahead. You saw it in immigration, you saw it in marriage issues. You're seeing it now, the public has moved to a different place," Biden said in an interview on MSNBC's "Morning Joe." ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ reports that Biden guaranteed the public that the federal government was not going to establish a national registry of guns if universal background checks become law. "Even the notice that you picked up the phone at Dick's and called and asked about Joe Biden has to be destroyed within 24 hours, so this idea that there's a national registry - there's no place in the federal government where you can go, not a single place, and find everybody that owns a gun, and that will not change under this," he said. "Again the one thing the NRA has done so well lately is the disinformation. We use the word registration. There is no registration in America at the federal level."

ON THE AGENDA: This afternoon President Obama awards the Medal of Honor posthumously to Chaplain (Captain) Emil Kapaun for his heroism during combat against an armed enemy at Unsan, Korea and as a prisoner of war in November 1950. Later, the president meets with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in the Oval Office.

PAUL RYAN CRITICIZES OBAMA BUDGET: 'REALLY NOT ENTITLEMENT REFORM.' If President Obama's new budget is intended to lure Republicans back into budget talks, particularly with proposed changes to Social Security and Medicare that have already riled up the left, Rep. Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, isn't convinced. "I don't know if I would say that he cracked the door on entitlement reform," Ryan told ABC's JEFF ZELENY. "He has proposed to change a statistic, which saves money. That is really not entitlement reform." Ryan, who is headlining the annual dinner for pro-life women's group the Susan B. Anthony List tonight, said he was disappointed by the president's budget proposal, which he called "status quo." But asked whether Republicans would offer a compromise that could aggravate conservatives, like giving ground on raising taxes, Ryan said his party has already angered its base. "The fiscal cliff, I would argue, already did that," Ryan said. "That wasn't really popular."

2016 LIKE IT'S TODAY: Ryan, who became one of the leading figures in the Republican Party after being selected as the vice presidential nominee last year, said that he has not ruled out seeking the party's presidential nomination in 2016. But he said that he was focused on his work in Congress, particularly the nation's rising debt burdens. "You never know what comes in the future," Ryan told ABC News.

IN GUN DEBATE, MICHELLE OBAMA GAMBLES WITH POPULARITY. First Lady Michelle Obama is putting her most valuable asset as first lady on the line: her sky-high popularity, writes ABC's RICK KLEIN. By entering the national debate over guns - calling for a vote on gun-control bills yesterday, and tearing up as she talked about the death of a Chicago teen - the first lady is wading directly into a highly charged political issue for the first time in her husband's presidency. "Right now my husband is fighting as hard as he can and engaging as many people as he can to pass common-sense reforms to protect our children from gun violence," she told a luncheon gathering in Chicago yesterday, kicking off a new venture to curb youth violence. "And these reforms deserve a vote in Congress." That call to political action may signal a new, more controversial phase of her tenure as first lady. It could also mark an inflection point in the way she's viewed by the public, depending on how this plays out. Michelle Obama is consistently ranked among the most popular political figures in the country. An ABC News-Washington Post poll taken shortly before the November election found her viewed favorably by 69 percent of respondents, and unfavorably by just 26 percent - and that in the heat of a bitter presidential campaign. She got to that level by being mostly apolitical.

SEN. MANCHIN BREAKS DOWN IN TEARS MEETING WITH NEWTOWN PARENTS. Meeting with Newtown families Wednesday afternoon, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., told them, "I'm a parent and a grandfather, and I had to do something." He spoke slowly, pausing between words as he choked back tears. "I had to do something." Mark Barden, the father of 7-year-old Daniel, handed the senator a tissue and placed his hand on his shoulder, ABC's SUNLEN MILLER notes. "Let's all share," the senator said, putting the box of tissues on the coffee table between them to the many takers among the families. Speaking to the families, Manchin said, "I can assure you we're protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners, the same as we're trying to prevent lawbreakers and people who aren't mentally capable of having a gun, it does both." He added that he is not worried about how this will affect his NRA "A" rating. "I would ask my friends at the NRA - take our bill, put it online and let NRA members like myself vote on it. Let them vote and see where they would be. "

NEWTOWN FAMILIES MAKE THE ROUNDS: Yesterday, the families held separate meetings with Sen. Pat Toomey, R-PA. They have also met with Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-NH.; Sen. Richard Burr, R-NC.; Sen. Angus King, I-Maine.; Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas; Sen. Coburn, R-Okla.; and Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. Today the families will meet with Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., among others.

IS THE BORDER SECURE? RANCHERS SAY NO. Yesterday on Capitol Hill, Border Patrol agents testifying at a Senate Committee for Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs hearing admitted there could be more done to improve border security after the chairman of the committee asked them to "raise your hand" if you think the "border is far more secure than it was a half-dozen years ago" as well as "think we can do a whole lot more to improve it." All raised their hands, reports ABC's JIM AVILA and SERENA MARSHALL. Meanwhile, 2,000 miles west, Arizona rancher Jim Chilton patrols five miles of international border, armed with a rifle on his chest and a 6 gun on his belt, emphatically sounding an alarm that complicates immigration reform. Standing near the four-strand barb-wired fence that marks the border, ABC News asked Chilton if he thought the border is secure. His answer: "NO! The border is not secure." That's a far cry from the responses given by those in border towns like El Paso, where the answer is a resounding yes. Chilton, who is a fifth generation rancher, said that as he and his cowboys go about their business in the corrals daily, they hope those crossing for cartel purposes-such as transporting drugs-avoid them. But, just in case, he makes sure to never leave his house unprotected. Chilton says that Border Patrol told him approximately 500 crossed his ranch in December. While ABC News visited, one Border Patrol officer told Chilton that he guesses they catch about 50% of those crossing his ranch.


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