The State Of The Union Is… (The Note)

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By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • STATE OF THE UNION OPTICS: When President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress tomorrow night to deliver his State of the Union address, numerous Democratic members will bring victims of gun violence as their guests, notes ABC's John Parkinson. This year, Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., is leading an effort to persuade lawmakers to give their guest passes to victims of gun violence. Attending the president's address will be family members of victims in some of the nation's deadliest mass shootings, including Virginia Tech, Aurora, Tucson and Newtown. Langevin, who is serving in his seventh term, has invited one of his constituents, Jim Tyrell, to attend the address. Tyrell's sister, Debbie, was murdered in 2004 during a robbery at a convenience store she owned in Providence, R.I. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has invited a Newtown, Connecticut 4th grade student and her mother as her guests. The student does not attend Sandy Hook, but she attends another elementary school in Newtown and wrote Pelosi a letter imploring Congress to enact new gun control measures.
  • OBAMA, ON THE ROAD AGAIN: To drive home the point that President Obama sees jobs and the economy as his number one priority, the president's travel after his State of the Union address will be used to promote his new economic initiatives, ABC's Chief White House Correspondent Jonathan Karl notes. The new initiatives will entail new federal spending, but the spending will be off-set by reductions elsewhere in the federal budget. In terms of cost, these initiatives will be relatively modest: The days of big economic stimulus programs are over. According to the White House, "On Wednesday, February 13, the President will travel to the Asheville, North Carolina area for an event. On Thursday, February 14, the President will travel to the Atlanta, Georgia area for an event. On Friday, February 15, the President will travel to the Chicago area for an event."
  • HAPPENING TODAY: Vice President Joe Biden and Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole will join and other administration and congressional officials at a roundtable discussion to discuss gun safety at Girard College in Philadelphia.


ABC's JONATHAN KARL: In contrast to his inaugural address, the President's State of the Union speech will focus primarily on jobs and the economy, outlining new initiatives on manufacturing, education, clean energy and infrastructure. He will elaborate on the big themes of the inaugural - immigration, gun violence and climate change - but a top White House official tells me the State of the Union will have a "heavy economic focus," specifically on "the middle class as the driver of economic growth." The President will use his speech to warn Congress to avoid automatic spending cuts - the dreaded "sequester" - scheduled to go into effect on March 1. The across-the-board cuts, the president will warn, would jeopardize the economic recovery and endanger national security. But the President will also make what make what the official called "a progressive case for deficit reduction" - warning that if entitlement spending is not brought under control it will crowd out spending on other social programs progressives hold dear.

ABC's RICK KLEIN: He's pivoted enough to have spun himself around, more than a few times. But President Obama's latest turn toward jobs, in tomorrow's State of the Union address, will be about as memorable as the other turns so long as the fiscal and budget debates that have paralyzed Washington for two years now remain unresolved. Bipartisanship is hard enough to achieve these days; bipartisanship, when there's a good excuse to be partisan, is just not feasible. This is the real reason the president wanted (and still wants) a grand bargain. Until he gets one, there's no reason to think his economic proposals will get serious consideration in divided Washington.

THE STATE OF THE UNION IS…BY REP. KEITH ELLISON AND DAVID WALKER. Each day leading up to President Obama's State of the Union address, will bring you a different newsmaker's thoughts on what "The State of the Union is …" (brought to you by ABC's Arlette Saenz)

Keith Ellison, D-Minn., said the state of the union "needs a real jolt" to ensure working class Americans experience success in our economy.

"The state of the union is a snapshot of where the country is at a particular moment, and right now where our country is is in a difficult state for working class families. Income inequality is growing, and it's a serious problem and it's actually undermining economic growth. We need more working and middle class people with more money to spend so that when they spend that money at the stores and the shops, that the stores and shops can hire more people and we can really boost up the economy, pay down the deficit and really help people achieve their dreams and hopes and aspirations for their family in terms of education, retirement and so many other things," Ellison said.

David Walker, former U.S. Comptroller General and founder and CEO of the Comeback America Initiative, categorized the state of the union as "mixed."

"The state of the union is mixed. The United States is the world's largest economy, the temporary sole super power, the leading democracy on earth, but we face a number of serious sustainability challenges that threaten our future position in the world, our future standard of living at home, our future national security and our future domestic tranquility," Walker told ABC News. "Our political system is broken. We face a number of known and growing problems and yet the political system has not been able to effectively address them until they reach crisis proportions. We've got to put our finances in order. We need to deal with our critical infrastructure. We need to generate more opportunity. We need to modify our immigration laws, our energy and environmental policies, we have to control healthcare costs. We have to deal with all of these issues if we want our future to be better than our past."


REP. KEITH ELLISON ON GOP'S SOFTER RHETORIC: 'LIPSTICK ON A PIG.' On "This Week," Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., dismissed recent gestures by prominent members of the GOP suggesting a softening of Republican positions as simply "lipstick on a pig." "I think all of this stuff is just surface stuff. It's like lipstick on a pig, " Ellison said. "I mean, the bottom line is, the Republicans have a core values problem, not a 'who knows who Tupac Shakur is' problem." Ellison was responding to ABC News political analyst and contributor Nicolle Wallace, who praised Marco Rubio on the roundtable. The Florida senator is seen as a rising star in the GOP and a member of the party that could help Republicans win more Latino support. Rubio recently endorsed a bipartisan senate proposal aimed at reforming America's immigration system.

SPOTLIGHT: THE 'TENTH OF DECEMBER.' In this week's Sunday Spotlight, author George Saunders discussed his critically praised book, "Tenth of December." It's now a best-seller - a rare feat for a short story collection. During an interview on ABC News' "This Week," Saunders told George Stephanopoulos he hopes to inspire a new sense of unity among readers. "You're sending out a bundle of energy, you know, concentrated energy that you've made with your own sweat, really, and your heart, and it goes out and it jangles somebody," Saunders said. "Now, there's another level where you do hope to make people more alive in the world, maybe more aware of the fact that we have more in common with others than we think we do." In a recent cover story, The New York Times Magazine called Saunders "the writer for our time" and praised his latest work as the "best book you'll read this year." His collection of short stories features many contemporary American themes, including economic anxiety.

STEPHANIE CUTTER: NO REGRETS. Stephanie Cutter, Obama 2012 deputy campaign manager, joined ABC News in a web exclusive before her appearance on the "This Week" roundtable on Sunday. In an interview with ABC's Ben Bell, she discussed working with the president, the 2012 campaign, and a few of her favorite things. Cutter looked back on her time on the campaign trail and news-making moments, such as when she said that Mitt Romney was either possibly guilty of a felony for misrepresenting his position at Bain Capital after 1999 to the SEC or guilty of misrepresenting his position to the American people. "I don't regret saying it. It's the truth," Cutter said. "What I said was there were a series of documents that came out, that came to light in a news report that showed that Romney had signed SEC documents alleging that he was in charge of Bain Capital from 1999 to 2001, when he alleged he wasn't in change of Bain Capital, and that he was off running the Olympics. But he was signing these documents as the chairman, president, CEO and sole owner of Bain Capital to the federal government. So only one of two things could be true… either he's not telling the truth to the SEC or he's not telling the truth to the American people. If he's not telling the truth to the SEC, then that could be a felony. That's exactly what I said."

NEW FACES OF THE STATE DEPARTMENT. Secretary of State John Kerry has selected the senior staff who will help him as the nation's top diplomat. A Senior State Department Official confirms to ABC's Dana Hughes the following changes in Secretary Kerry's new administration: David Wade, Chief of Staff: Wade served as Kerry's chief of staff in the Senate. William Danvers, Deputy Chief of Staff and Policy Director: Danvers is a foreign policy expert, specializing in nuclear reduction issues who's worked for Defense, State and Intelligence agencies for over 30 years. Heather Higginbottom, Counselor of the Department: Higginbottom is a former Deputy Director of the federal Office of Management and Budget. Glen Johnson, Senior Advisor: A former Boston Globe reporter for 27 years, Johnson's title is likely to change to Deputy Assistant Secretary of State. He will assist Kerry with strategic communications.

SHERIFF TARGETS MENTAL ILLNESS LINK TO GUN VIOLENCE. On a recent stroll down the fifth-floor cell block of his urban jail, Sheriff Richard Stanek of Minneapolis glanced through door windows at inmates and lamented shortcomings of the nation's mental health care system. "If you look just in this jail, with 38,000 inmates who come through here every year, about one third of them suffer from some form of severe or untreated mental illness," Stanek said in an interview with ABC's Devin Dwyer. As lawmakers search for solutions on gun violence in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December, there is growing consensus on the need for more resources to identify and treat people who are mentally ill - and implement greater protections to keep dangerous people away from guns. A bipartisan group of senators, including Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, last week proposed spending $1 billion over the next decade to strengthen the mental health care system. Stanek, a Republican former state representative who opposes new gun controls, is also on board, emerging as a top advocate for more mental health resources in his role as president of the Major Counties Sheriffs' Association and using meetings at the White House to rally support.

CHRIS CHRISTIE AND THE POLITICS OF WEIGHT. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's weight was back in the spotlight last week. But Christie is far from the only politician who's dealt with a weight issue, notes ABC's Shushannah Walshe. Former Arkansas governor and presidential candidate, now-Fox News host Mike Huckabee lost over 100 pounds before he ran for president, talking openly and even writing a book about how he went from "zero exercise" to running marathons. President Bill Clinton lost weight in office, but dramatically slimmed down after his heart surgery in 2004, even becoming vegan before his daughter Chelsea's 2010 wedding. Former Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour once said that it would be clear he was running for president if he lost 40 pounds. Even Dr. Regina Benjamin, President Obama's pick for surgeon general, had to endure criticism that, despite her experience and credentials, she was too overweight for the job. Politically speaking, the issue may not be as bad as is widely assumed. Two thirds of Americans struggle with their weight and one third are obese. Also, in 2010 political scientist Beth J. Miller and psychologist Jennifer D. Lundgren, of the University of Missouri in Kansas City, published research showing that being overweight did hurt political candidates, but only female ones.

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@davidaxelrod: Is it a plus to be designated "The Republican Savior" four years out?

@jmartpolitico: If elected in May, @harrisonjaime will be first African-American SC Dem Chair …

@brianschatz: I'm looking forward to hearing the President's address tomorrow. So far I've heard encouraging indications about…

@DavidMDrucker: Altho polls show voters think DC 'has a spending problem,' 4 many that cld mean DC overspending on wrong things, not overspending overall

@TerryMoran: Pope Benedict's resignation is a gift he gives to the Church he's led: a modernizing move that actually changes the nature of the papacy.