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The Note's Must-Reads for Friday, February 21, 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' Jayce Henderson and Jordan Mazza

PRESIDENT OBAMA The Hill's Justin Sink: " Obama to Dems: Make midterms 'sexy'" President Obama warned that Democrats often get into trouble during the midterm elections because state-level races aren't as "sexy" as national presidential elections during a meeting with Democratic governors and party donors Thursday night. "We know how to win national elections," Obama said. "But all too often it's during these midterms where we end up getting ourselves into trouble because, I guess we don't think it's sexy enough." LINK

The New York Times' Michael Shear: " Obama's Budget Omits Trims to Social Security" President Obama's forthcoming budget plan will not include a proposal to trim cost-of-living increases in Social Security checks, the gesture of bipartisanship he made to Republicans last year in a failed strategy to reach a "grand compromise" on reducing projected federal debt. White House officials said on Thursday that since Republicans in Congress have shown no willingness to meet the president's offer on social programs by closing loopholes for corporations and wealthy Americans, the proposed budget for the 2015 fiscal year will not assume a path to an agreement that no longer appears to exist. LINK

The Washington Post's Zachary Goldfarb: " With 2015 budget request, Obama will call for an end to era of austerity" President Obama's forthcoming budget request will seek tens of billions of dollars in fresh spending for domestic priorities while abandoning a compromise proposal to tame the national debt in part by trimming Social Security benefits. With the 2015 budget request, Obama will call for an end to the era of austerity that has dogged much of his presidency and to his efforts to find common ground with Republicans. LINK

FIRST LADY MICHELLE OBAMA The New York Daily News' Erin Durkin: " Michelle Obama visits New York for museum exhibit, Jimmy Fallon taping" First Lady Michelle Obama came to New York Thursday with a message - drinking water is cool. Obama, who is slated to appear on the "Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon" Thursday night, started her day with a visit to Manhattan's New Museum, which is hosting an exhibit using street art to promote drinking water. Sporting a multi-colored dress and maroon top, the first lady greeted a group of 8th graders on hand for the exhibit, dubbed "Taking Back the Streets" and produced by the water company WAT-AHH. LINK

UKRAINE ABC News' Jonathan Karl: " White House Readies Sanctions Against Ukraine" The Obama administration is putting together a package of sanctions the president could likely put in place by Friday, ABC News has learned. These sanctions would directly target individuals in the Ukrainian government believed to be responsible for the violence unfolding in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev. LINK

The Washington Times' Guy Taylor and Dave Boyer: " Foreign policy critics want Obama to chart a more proactive position" The flaring of global hots spots such as Ukraine and Syria dramatically illustrates the dwindling influence of President Obama in foreign affairs and the staying power of his perennial rival, Russian President Vladimir Putin, analysts say. The deadly clashes between anti-government demonstrators and security forces in the heart of Kiev this week erupted after the Ukrainian government shrugged off a series of private and public appeals by the Obama administration for democratic reforms and restraint, and most recently the threat of sanctions. LINK

NEW JERSEY Gov CHRIS CHRISTIE The Wall Street Journal's Heather Haddon: " Christie Hosts First Town Hall Since Scandal " He consoled displaced superstorm Sandy victims, joked about his undying love for Bruce Springsteen and even used salty language at times as he bantered with detractors and admirers. It was mostly vintage Chris Christie on Thursday at the Republican governor's first town hall meeting since last June, perhaps the first time the potential 2016 presidential contender has seemed himself since a scandal over a traffic jam outside the George Washington Bridge engulfed his administration. LINK

HEALTH CARE USA Today's Kelly Kennedy: " Private exchange sees surge in health care enrollment" The number of customers on the nation's largest private health insurance exchange increased by 50% in the final three months of 2013, a direct result of demand created by the Affordable Care Act, the company's CEO said Thursday. Gary Lauer, CEO of eHealth Insurance, said individual memberships rose 50% in the fourth quarter of 2013 compared with the same period in 2012, from 113,600 applications in the last three months of 2012 to 169,800 in 2013. LINK

WISCONSIN Gov SCOTT WALKER Politico's Elizabeth Titus: " The Walker scandal snoozer" No crotch shots. No mistress in Argentina. And no political vendettas featuring a bridge. Scott Walker is one lucky guy. A trove of the Wisconsin governor's aides' emails released this week so far appear to contain few of the elements of a career-damaging digital scandal. Instead, the most serious accusations involve campaign laws more likely to elicit yawns than outrage. LINK

RELIGIOUS FREEDOM BILL The Los Angeles Times' Cindy Carcamo: " Gay rights activists in uproar over Arizona 'religious freedom' bill" Say a gay couple in Phoenix walks into a bakery to order their wedding cake. The baker refuses to take their order because of his deeply held religious beliefs. Under a measure that passed the Arizona Legislature this week, the baker would have greater protection to invoke religion to shield himself from a discrimination lawsuit. The bill, approved by the Republican-controlled Senate on Wednesday and the GOP-led House on Thursday, would bolster a business owner's right to refuse service to gays and others if the owner believes doing so violates the practice and observance of his or her religion. LINK

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