Congress In The Doldrums

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )

NOTABLES

  • MISERY LOVES COMPANY (IN CONGRESS): Merely a third of Americans approve of the way the Democrats in Congress are handling their jobs - and even fewer, just a quarter, approve of their Republican counterparts. That hold-your-nose result in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll marks the challenges both parties face gaining traction in election preference between now and Nov. 4, according to ABC NEWS POLLSTER GARY LANGER. Their solace is that, however unloved, somebody's got to win. As for the Republicans in Congress, 25 percent approve, compared with a low of 20 percent in late 2011 and a 20-year average of 32 percent. Seventy-one percent disapprove. http://abcn.ws/KiLijt
  • THAT'S PAINFUL: Congressional Republicans get only a 51 percent approval rating from Republicans themselves, highlighting the party's popularity problems - including internal rifts over its Tea Party component - among its own core supporters. The Democrats in Congress, by contrast, get a much better rating, 64 percent, from self-identified Democrats in today's poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates. (Independents give both the stink eye, with 27 percent approval for the Democrats in Congress, 23 percent for the GOP.) http://abcn.ws/KiLijt
  • ON THE ROAD AGAIN: President Obama travels to Raleigh, North Carolina today where he will unveil a new public-private manufacturing innovation institute in an effort to strengthen the manufacturing industry, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ notes. He will tour a company called Vacon, which manufactures AC drives. Later he will deliver remarks at North Carolina State University.
  • ON THE HILL: An aide to House Speaker John Boehner e-mails The Note: "Embracing the White House's call to make this a 'year of action,' Speaker Boehner will deliver a floor speech at noon today outlining some specific, bipartisan actions the President can take right now to help the private sector create more American jobs."

THE ROUNDTABLE

ABC's JEFF ZELENY: There's no greater worry among Democrats facing re-election this year than the lingering political fallout from the nation's new health care law. Yet they have always rested on the hopeful notion that the law would be viewed in a far better light by the time the election rolled around. That may be wishful thinking, particularly given the aggressive advertising battle underway in key Senate races across the country. Americans for Prosperity, the outside Republican group largely financed by the Koch brothers, has led the charge on TV ads against not only sitting Democratic senators, but also House members running for the Senate. The latest example was unveiled yesterday in Iowa and Michigan, where Democrats would otherwise have the upper hand in open Senate races. It's becoming increasingly clear the biggest foes for Democratic candidates may not be their Republican rivals, but their own health care law.

ABC's RICK KLEIN: We will talk much about the "enthusiasm gap," and the likelihood that the midterm elections are decided by which side feels a greater urgency at the polls. But what if nobody likes anybody? The new ABC News/Washington Post poll out Wednesday shows the extent to which voters are lukewarm on even the members of Congress whom share their party affiliation. Only 51 percent of Republicans approve of Republicans in Congress - hello, tea party. Democrats fare better, yet more than a third of self-identified Democrats still say they aren't behind Democrats in Congress. Independents dislike both parties overwhelmingly, with 27 percent supporting Democrats in Congress, and 23 percent backing their GOP counterparts. It's looking like an uninspired year all around. There may not be enough pens or phones at the White House (or, at least, not the kind that work) to change that.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie still has a high approval rating in his state, but at 56 percent according to a Quinnipiac poll out today it's still down from an incredible all-time high of 74 percent one year ago. New Jersey voters also believe 54 to 40 percent he is more of a leader than a bully and 51 to 41 percent he is honest and trustworthy and a high 74 percent believe he is a strong leader. Of course one group that disagrees with that are his opponents in the state legislature who are set to issue subpoenas Thursday for both documents and testimony to the key aides implicated in the "bridgegate" scandal. Yesterday, after Christie's state of the state address where he acknowledged "mistakes were clearly made" his Democratic opponents in the state legislature stressed there needs to be a thorough investigation, but "the business of the state needs to go forward." "We know everybody is fascinated with bridgegate," Assembly Majority Leader Lou Greenwald said, adding they didn't want to rush to conclusions and promised a "methodical and systematic approach" to the investigation. "This is a distraction," he said of the scandal.

BUZZ

SUPREME COURT TAKES UP CONTROVERSIAL ABORTION PROTEST CASE. The Supreme Court is set to hear a case today brought by a 77-year-old grandmother who seeks to peacefully reach women who may be contemplating an abortion, ABC's ARIANE DE VOGUE reports. Eleanor McCullen stands on public sidewalks near abortion clinics in Massachusetts, her lawyers say, to reach a "unique audience, at a unique moment, in a compassionate and non-confrontational way." Her lawyers claim that over the years many women have accepted such offers of help from McCullen. But McCullen says her efforts have been stymied since 2007 with the passage of a Massachusetts law that provides a 350foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. The law makes it a crime to "enter or remain on a public way or sidewalk" within 35 feet of an entrance, exit or driveway of an abortion clinic. The case pits free speech advocates against officials in Massachusetts concerned with public safety. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley says in court briefs that the law was necessary after other federal and state laws failed to solve the problem of demonstrators blocking public access to clinics. She says the law is not about speech, but an attempt to regulate traffic and congestion outside facility entrances to ensure public safety and patient access. http://abcn.ws/1dvd4pS

TWO CHRIS CHRISTIES: A TALE OF THE TAPE. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie gave a wide ranging State of the State address Tuesday, but started his remarks by addressing the scandal that has rocked his office over the last week. The Republican governor acknowledged that "Bridgegate" has "certainly tested" his administration. "We let down the people we are entrusted to serve," Christie said in a speech aimed at the two houses of the state legislature as well as his constituents in the Garden State. It was a different moment - and a different mood - than just a few days ago. On Tuesday, Christie was greeted by extended applause from elected officials and guests and promised to "cooperate with all appropriate inquiries to ensure this breach of trust does not happen again." Last week, he was greeted by a mostly silent press corps. On Tuesday, at the formal event at the State Capitol, he answered no questions. Last week he took dozens of them. Here's a look, from ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE, SHUSHANNAH WALSHE and ABBY PHILLIP, at the two Chris Christie's - the governor who stood behind a podium on Tuesday to outline his vision for the future of his state and the potential 2016 presidential contender who last week held a nearly two-hour press conference to protect his political hide. http://abcn.ws/1ckMppQ

NSA REVIEW PANEL DEFENDS ITS RECOMMENDATIONS. Curtailing the scope of the NSA's controversial data mining won't impede national intelligence gathering, a presidential panel told lawmakers yesterday, according to ABC's LUIS MARTINEZ. The President's Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technologies appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to discuss its 46 recommendations that limits the National Security Agency's vacuuming of data. President Obama is set to announce on Friday changes addressing the privacy concerns about the NSA's operations that have been brought to light by former agency contractor Edward Snowden. "Not one of the 46 recommendations in our report would, in our view, compromise and jeopardize that ability [to gather intelligence] in any way," said Harvard Law School Professor Cass Sunstein, speaking for the Review Group's five members. The panel sought unanimity in arriving at its recommendations and ultimately voted 230 times as changes were made to the recommendations, he said. http://abcn.ws/1b1bFBy

HAPPENING TODAY

IS OBAMACARE BEYOND RESCUE? The first Intelligence Squared U.S. debate of the 2014 season takes place tonight and is moderated by ABC's JOHN DONVAN. The topic is "Obamacare is Now Beyond Rescue"? Dr. Scott Gottlieb, practicing physician and former deputy commissioner of the FDA and writer and columnist for Bloomberg View, Megan McArdle will argue for the motion. Political commentator and New York Magazine columnist Jonathan Chait with family physician and former assistant Surgeon General, Dr. Douglas Kamerow, will argue against the motion. The debate takes place tonight from 6:45 p.m. - 8:30 p.m. at the Kaufman Center in New York. For tickets and more information: http://www. intelligencesquaredus.org/

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

SHOWSTOPPER MITT ROMNEY KICKS IT 'GANGNAM STYLE'. Mitt Romney has been called many things over the years, but never a dance sensation - until now, notes ABC's ALISA WIERSEMA. The former presidential candidate was recently pulled on stage at a Maryland conference for young single adults in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints where he danced "Gangnam Style" during a concert with British-born Mormon singer Alex Boye. South Korean pop star Psy made the song and accompanying dance moves popular in late 2012 and the craze was cited by a handful of politicians at the peak of its popularity, including Romney's former presidential opponent. President Obama told South Korean President Park Geun-hye at a joint May 2013 news conference that his daughters had taught him a "pretty good 'Gangnam Style.'" http://abcn.ws/1iPdOG3

WHO'S TWEETING?

@tackettdc: The art of the deal alive, well in $1.1 trillion budget bill @ericliptonnyt @jonathanweisman http://nyti.ms/1clpkDp

@PostReid: Sharron Angle will push an initiative to outlaw health care exchanges in Nevada - http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2014/jan/14/angle-files-initiative-outlaw-health-exchanges/ …

@tedcruz: Reagan was on to something when he said most terrifying words were "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." http://www.gallup.com/poll/166844/government-itself-cited-top-problem.aspx …

@ezraklein: Ex-Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (and 2016 Dem hopeful) can't think of a single thing Obama has done right: http://wapo.st/1gKoOmN

@jmartNYT: . @hillhulse on AFP's o'care blitz against vulnerable Ds, w @guycecil calling for the cavalry > http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/15/us/politics/ads-attacking-on-health-law-stagger-outspent-democrats.html?hp&_r=0 …

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