The Note's Must-Reads for Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Note's Must-Reads are a round-up of today's political headlines and stories from ABC News and the top U.S. newspapers. Posted Monday through Friday right here at www.abcnews.com

Compiled by ABC News' Will Cantine, Jayce Henderson and Jordan Mazza

SYRIA ABC News' Chris Good: " Kerry Calls for UN Investigation of Syrian Torture Photos, Alludes to 'Augmented' Support for Rebels" Speaking at the Syrian peace conference underway in Montreux, Switzerland, today, Secretary of State John Kerry called for a United Nations investigation of the photos of tortured bodies in Syria obtained by CNN. He also hinted that the U.S. or international partners will increase funding for Syria's opposition. LINK

The New York Times' Mark Landler and Ben Hubbard: " State Dept. Learned in November of Photos Said to Show Torture in Syria" The Obama administration first learned last November about a harrowing trove of photographs that were said to document widespread torture and executions in Syrian prisons when a State Department official viewed some of the images on a laptop belonging to an antigovernment activist, a senior official said Wednesday. The United States did not act on the photos for the past two months, officials said, because it did not have possession of the digital files and could not establish their authenticity. Nevertheless, they said, the administration believes the photos are genuine, basing that assessment in part on the meticulous way in which the bodies in the photos were numbered. LINK

The Wall Street Journal's Jay Solomon, Maria Abi-Habib and Stacy Meichtry: " U.S., Syrian Diplomats Spar As Conference Begins" Syria and the U.S. opened a long-awaited peace conference by clashing over the fate of President Bashar al-Assad, exposing the depths of division and pessimism about any progress at the first talks in nearly three years of war. The early sparring in Switzerland on Wednesday centered on Western demands that President Bashar al-Assad be removed from power. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry kicked it off by insisting Mr. Assad must go. LINK

MARCH FOR LIFE The Hill's Alexandra Jaffe: " Conservatives Argue Abortion Can Be Winning Issue For GOP" The March for Life on the National Mall thrust the abortion debate squarely into the spotlight on Wednesday. As tens of thousands of anti-abortion activists and politicians gathered in Washington, they also brought with them a new push for the Republican Party to reiterate its opposition to abortion just in time for the 2014 elections. They argue that if Republicans push for curbs on abortion that have bipartisan support - like a ban at 20 weeks of gestation, and a ban on sex-selective abortions - they can regain control of the narrative on the issue. LINK

The Washington Times' Meredith Somers and Ralph Z. Hallow: " Dueling Party Chairs Signal Fight On Women, Abortion At March For Life" Thousands of pro-life activists donned scarves, gloves and knit hats Wednesday to brave the blowing snow and arctic temperatures on the Mall as the 41st March for Life was punctuated by an unusually blunt exchange between the Republican and Democratic Party leaders that signaled a shifting fight for female voters. Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz opened the barrage, accusing her GOP counterpart, Reince Priebus, of rallying "against women's rights" and assailing Republicans for spending "more time fighting to restrict the rights of women to make their own health care choices." LINK

MARRIAGE EQUALITY The Washington Post's Robert Barnes: " Virginia to fight same-sex marriage ban" Virginia Attorney General Mark R. Herring will announce Thursday that he believes the state's ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and that Virginia will join two same-sex couples in asking a federal court to strike it down, according to an official close to the attorney general with knowledge about the decision. The action will mark a stunning reversal in the state's legal position on same-sex marriage and is a result of November elections in which Democrats swept the state's top offices. Herring's predecessor, Republican Ken Cuccinelli II, adamantly opposes gay marriage and had vowed to defend Virginia's constitutional amendment banning such unions, which was passed in 2006 with the support of 57 percent of voters. LINK

NEW JERSEY GOV. CHRIS CHRISTIE Politico's Elizabeth Titus: " Chris Christie allies cry 'Partisan!' as defense" Chris Christie may preach bipartisanship, but his GOP allies trying to squelch the scandals engulfing his administration have a different strategy: Attack critics as partisan "political hacks." As the Bridgegate controversy escalates and Democratic mayors complain about political pressure from Christie's office, the New Jersey governor's backers argue the scrutiny has turned into a "witch hunt" driven by hacks "with an ax to grind." LINK

LOBBYING Bloomberg's Jim Snyder: " Keystone Builder's 2013 U.S. Lobbying Topped $1 Million" TransCanada Corp. (TRP), the Calgary-based company behind the Keystone XL pipeline, spent $1.05 million to lobby Congress and the administration last year, about 24 percent more than it spent in 2012, records filed with the U.S. Senate show. The $5.4 billion proposed link between Canada's oil sands and refineries along the Gulf Coast is under review at the U.S. State Department because it crosses an international border. LINK

INCOME INEQUALITY USA Today's Susan Page and Kendall Breitman: " Poll: United we stand on wealth gap" Brian Davis, a sixth-grade teacher from Bel Air, Md., won't need to be convinced when President Obama spotlights growing economic inequality as a priority in the State of the Union Address next week. He's living it. Like two-thirds of those surveyed in a new USA TODAY/Pew Research Center Poll, Davis sees the gap between the rich and everyone else widening in the United States, and he worries about what that will mean for his 10-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter. His salary has stayed flat for the past five years - his school district put raises and cost-of-living increases on hold - while expenses keep rising. LINK

ABC NEWS VIDEO " New Rob Ford Video Reignites Toronto Politics" LINK

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