Hillary Clinton's Challenge (And Opportunity) (The Note)

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By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • 2016 LIKE IT'S TODAY: CLINTON MORE POPULAR THAN BIDEN. We're a long way from 2016, but ABC's Polling Analyst Greg Holyk reports: Of two potential Democratic successors to Barack Obama, one has a clear advantage in personal popularity: Hillary Clinton, whose favorability rating exceeds Joe Biden's by a hefty 19 percentage points in the latest ABC News-Washington Post poll. … Sixty-seven percent of Americans see her favorably overall, numerically a new high in her long career in the public spotlight … Biden, for his part, is seen favorably by many fewer Americans, 48 percent, vs. 37 percent unfavorable. Clinton is also more popular than Biden across groups - notably, in partisan terms, among independents. She's seen more favorably than the vice president by 13 and 17 points among Democrats and Republicans, respectively, but by 23 points among independents, 65 percent vs. 42 percent for Biden. More findings from the new ABC News-Washington Post poll: http://abcn.ws/10Rke2b
  • TODAY ON THE HILL: Secretary Clinton testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at 9:30 a.m. about the attack in Benghazi that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Clinton is also scheduled to appear before the House Foreign Affairs Committee at 2 p.m. Watch live: http://abcnews.go.com/live
  • TESTIMONY PRIMER: Clinton was expected to testify about a report on security failures in Benghazi in December, but first a concussion and then a blood clot near her brain kept the out-going secretary of state away from Capitol Hill. The report led to the firing of three State Department employees from their posts and one resignation because of "systemic failures and leadership deficiencies at senior levels in securing the compound." The departing staff are still on administrative leave, however, meaning they are still State department employees. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Clinton would first tell representatives at the morning hearing about how the department has begun implementing the report's recommendations. "As she'll make clear tomorrow, all of the recommendations are currently being implemented, but there will be plenty of implementation work that needs to be carried forward by her successor," Nuland said at the daily briefing yesterday.


ABC's GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS: As I said in an interview with Fox News' Bill O'Reilly last night, the country has decided that they basically like the reforms that were first put in place by Franklin Roosevelt. They like Social Security, they like Medicare, they think those programs have made a difference. They think those programs have benefitted the country, and I think that every single election we've had in recent times has re-enforced that idea. Certainly reforms are going to be necessary in those programs to make sure we are going to be able to afford them in the future. I think the president knows that he's got a very difficult slog in this Congress over the next four years, so he just wants to be able to say, 'here's the goals, here's the direction I'm pointing in. I don't know exactly what we can achieve but this is what I want to do.' Here's my full interview: http://fxn.ws/UktFls

ABC's RICK KLEIN: It's not the way she wanted to go out. After a two-decade career in the national political limelight - as first lady, as a senator, and now as secretary of state - Hillary Rodham Clinton's final official act with a title in front of her name is likely to come today, as she testifies about a tragic embarrassment of an episode that left four Americans dead in Libya. Her delayed testimony comes at what's otherwise a high point in her public career; she's viewed favorably by 67 percent of respondents in the new ABC News-Washington Post poll. It's one reason this last taste (for now) of Clinton in an official capacity matters. Clinton has finally gotten the right to dial back its severe criticism of almost everything she's done, and there is no reason now to fire up the "vast right-wing conspiracy."

ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: With a little over a week before the Senate Armed Services Committee begins confirmation hearings on former Sen. Chuck Hagel's nomination to be the next Secretary of Defense, the television air wars against him are heating up. This morning the conservative group, the American Future Fund, is releasing a tough new ad accusing Hagel of declining to "publicly disclose millions in underlying assets," accepting "gold plated trips from lobbyists" and noting that he sits on the board of the oil giant Chevron "which receives hundreds of millions in Pentagon contracts." The group says it is spending half-a-million dollars on the new spot, which will run on Fox News and CNN across the country. This is the American Future Fund's second anti-Hagel television ad and comes on the heels of a volley of five ads from another group, Americans for a Strong Defense, specifically tailored to pressure senators from those states to vote "no" on Hagel's nomination. More details: http://abcn.ws/XVDk1H

ABC's DEVIN DWYER: With all the clamor over President Obama's inaugural comments on climate change, it's time for a reality check on what he can and will do to confront it. The White House is downplaying speculation that a major legislative push may be in the works. A re-introduction of cap and trade in this Congress, after all, would certainly be dead on arrival. And even environmental activists, who appreciated Obama's rhetoric on Monday, seem to think little will change. "With words like that, it's easy to let ourselves dream that something major might be about to happen," said author and activist Bill McKibben, but "we know that too often rhetoric has yielded little in the way of results." Progressives are fixated instead on securing smaller environmental victories, like eco-friendly appointments to the Department of Interior and the Environmental Protection Agency; implementation of delayed greenhouse gas emission rules; and a presidential veto of the Keystone XL Pipeline. The pipeline issue, more than any other they say, will be the biggest test of the much-discussed rhetoric from Obama's address. He punted on a decision in the heat of the 2012 campaign, but very soon faces a difficult final call. Hanging on the other side of the balance: a public commitment to an "all-of-the-above" approach to energy and thousands of new jobs. Here's my story: http://abcn.ws/UiqkU4

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: I usually talk to politicians and politicos so I was pretty star struck when Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul herself, called me to weigh in on the Beyonce lip sync controversy, but it was actually what she had to say about the president's second inauguration that was the most interesting: "From the beginning to the end, I was crying throughout the ceremony at different times," Franklin told me. "Looking at the history of the president coming to the point he came to, looking to where it came from the Civil Rights movement to yesterday and I think most of the country was crying." She said she wasn't more moved than she was four years ago when Barack Obama became the first African-American president, but noted that it was very different to watch it from home this time: "It's one thing to be there to perform and another to be able to sit at home and watch it on TV, it's a completely different perspective." http://abcn.ws/WIFK2r

VIDEO OF THE DAY: CHRISTOPHER KENNEDY LAWFORD ON ADDICTION. Christopher Kennedy Lawford, nephew of President John F. Kennedy and Sen. Ted Kennedy, talks with ABC's Rick Klein and Yahoo!'s Olivier Knox in the latest installment of "Top Line," about his new book on addiction, mental illness, and substance abuse. Lawford is calling for new ways of dealing with the public-health issue: "We've de-institutionalized the mentally ill in this country, our treatment now is in prisons and on the streets, and it's not working." And, with a senate seat in Massachusetts about to open up, there is a lot of talk of Victoria Reggie Kennedy, Sen. Kennedy's widow, filling the post on a temporary basis. "It always good to have a presence in Washington," says Lawford. "I love to see members of my family down here." WATCH: http://yhoo.it/Xzhi2H


with ABC's Chris Good ( @c_good)

PASS A BUDGET, OR DON'T GET PAID. ABC's John Parkinson reports: House Speaker John Boehner … said the House will move forward on its No Budget No Pay act, which directs both chambers of Congress to adopt a budget resolution for FY 2014 by April 15, 2013. If either body fails to pass a budget, members of that body would have their paychecks put into an escrow account starting on April 16 until that body adopts a budget. But, because of the 27th Amendment, any pay that is withheld would eventually be released at the end of the current Congress, even if a budget doesn't ever pass. … The bill, H.R. 325, also temporarily suspends the statutory debt limit until May 18, granting the Treasury Department the additional borrowing authority to meet obligations that require payment over the next three months. http://abcn.ws/10reYwg

HAPPENING TODAY: Early this afternoon the House will vote on its plan to temporarily extend borrowing authority for the debt limit. This vote also includes a provision that directs both chambers to adopt a budget resolution by April 15 or have their pay withheld until a budget passes or the session ends.

A SHORT-TERM DEBT-CEILING DEAL IN THE WORKS? At least President Obama wouldn't object, ABC's Mary Bruce reports: President Obama will not block a House Republican proposal to extend the nation's debt limit for just three months, the White House announced yesterday. "The bill still has to overcome some concerns expressed by members of the House and the Senate before it can pass both chambers and reach the president's desk. If it does and it reaches the president's desk, he would not stand in the way of the bill becoming law," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney told reporters. House Republicans had suggested leveraging the debt ceiling to try to extract more spending cuts from the Obama administration, asking for one dollar of spending cuts for every dollar of increase in the debt ceiling. Late last week, however, the leadership proposed a three-month extension of the nation's borrowing limit, a move intended to buy lawmakers more time to work out a "Big Deal" on deficit reduction. http://abcn.ws/XW57it

PAUL RYAN DRAFTING 10-YEAR BUDGET. House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan is working on a budget that a spokesman says will balance in 10 years, according to a spokesman. "Chairman Ryan looks forward to working with his colleagues to draft a responsible budget by the April 15 deadline. He hopes last week's agreement helps spur action by his Senate counterparts to do the same," Budget Committee spokesman Will Allison said. "With the right reforms put in place, Chairman Ryan's goal is to advance a budget that balances within a decade." http://abcn.ws/WHUheG

SENATE REPUBLICANS CALL OBAMA'S ADDRESS 'LIBERALISM.' ABC's Sunlen Miller reports: Senate Republicans on Capitol Hill today tore into President Obama's second inaugural address, labeling it as "liberal," "disturbing," and "disappointing." "One thing that's pretty clear from the president's speech yesterday-the era of liberalism is back," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., declared after meeting with the Republican caucus this afternoon. "An unabashedly far-left-of-center inauguration speech certainly brings back memories of the Democratic Party of ages past." Senate Republicans argued that discussion over spending and debt were given "short shift" in an inaugural speech that spent more time on climate change and gay rights. http://abcn.ws/VSGJyJ

ARETHA 'REALLY LAUGHED' ABOUT THE WHOLE BEYONCE THING. ABC's Shushannah Walshe reports: Aretha Franklin wowed the crowds at President Obama's first inauguration four years ago, belting out "My Country 'Tis of Thee" on a bitterly cold Washington, D.C., day. Four years later it was Beyonce whose performance drew initial raves at Obama's second inauguration, but with the news that she may have lip-synced her rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner" the Queen of Soul weighed in on the controversy, noting that she still thinks Beyonce "did a beautiful job." "But, when I heard the news this evening that she was pre-recorded I really laughed. I thought it was funny because the weather down there was about 46 or 44 degrees and for most singers that is just not good singing weather," Franklin told ABC News in an interview. In fact, the weather was even colder than that Monday, around 40 degrees. "When I heard that I just really cracked up. I thought it was really funny, but she did a beautiful job with the pre-record … next time I'll probably do the same." http://abcn.ws/WIFK2r

NO PRIMARY FOR OLD DEMOCRATS? Two of Democrats potential 2016 candidates will be much older than Obama in four years, ABC's Z. Byron Wolf points out: Barack Obama was a 40-something fresh face when he won the presidency in 2008. … But Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden-two of the top potential Democratic replacements for Barack Obama four years from now-will be either in or approaching their 70s when the next presidential election rolls around. … Asked if he's ready to run against Clinton in 2016, Biden told CNN, "I haven't made that judgment and Hillary hasn't made that judgment." … Anecdotally, age could be a problem. Obama, after all, beat two older men. Bill Clinton beat three older men in presidential races if you count Ross Perot. But usually age is not the overriding issue in a campaign. Reagan actually scored points declaring at a debate with the younger Walter Mondale, "I am not going to exploit for political purposes my opponent's youth and inexperience." http://abcn.ws/TkLYsQ

PROP. 8 BEGINS AT SCOTUS: GAY-MARRIAGE OPPONENTS FILE BRIEF. ABC's Ariane de Vogue reports: Let the filing of the gay marriage briefs begin! On Tuesday, proponents of Proposition 8-the controversial California ballot initiative that defines marriage as between a man and a woman-filed their opening briefs with the Supreme Court, urging the justices to reverse a lower court decision that struck down the state's ban on gay marriage. Arguments in the case will be heard at the end of March, and briefs from the opponents are due in about a month. "By adopting Proposition 8," Charles Cooper, a lawyer for ProtectMarriage.com, writes, "the People of California demonstrated their belief that this matter is best resolved by the People themselves, not by their courts. The Equal Protection Clause does not prohibit the People of California-or any State-from making this choice. To the contrary, it leaves them free to do what they are doing-debating this controversial issue and seeking to resolve it in a way that will best serve their families, their children, and, ultimately their society as a whole." http://abcn.ws/11PHM6V

TODAY AT THE WHITE HOUSE: With the inaugural festivities officially over, President Obama is spending the day behind closed-doors at the White House.He has no public events, as all eyes turn to the Hill for Clinton's testimony on Benghazi and the House vote on the debt limit extension, notes ABC's Mary Bruce. Obama and Biden meet privately for lunch at the White House.


@markknoller: Bright sunshine again this morning in DC but temperature 18° headed to the upper 20s later in the day

@SalenaZitoTrib: My exclusive interview with @Reince as the Republicans gather here in Charlotte to discuss the future of the GOP THIS-> http://triblive.com/politics/politicalheadlines/3300353-74/party-priebus-republicans …

@jimgeraghty: Looks like either IL AG Lisa Madigan or Bill Daley will challenge IL GOV Pat Quinn in 2014 primary: http://bit.ly/VjACpN

@PatrickRuffini: Exhibit A of why your Facebook data should be clean and well maintained. http://buff.ly/10rmlUA

@ErinMcPike: Am I late to the observation or has Senator Menendez dyed his hair? #superfluoustweets