The New Normal (The Note)

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP Photo

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • SETTLING IN FOR THE SEQUESTER: The White House and congressional leaders gave no indication this weekend that the $85 billion in mandatory across-the-board federal spending cuts known as the sequester will be lifted any time soon, reports ABC's Matthew Larotonda. On ABC's "This Week," White House economic adviser Gene Sperling said he expected Republican opposition on Capitol Hill to eventually succumb to constituent pressure. "My belief is that as this pain starts to gradually spread to communities affected by military spending, to children who need mental health services, to people who care about our border security, I believe that more Republican colleagues who are concerned about this harm to their constituents will choose bipartisan compromise on revenue raising tax reform with serious entitlement reform," he told anchor George Stephanopoulos. The White House says Obama spent Saturday on the phone with senators of both parties over a compromise.
  • CABINET NEWCOMERS: This morning President Obama will announce three new Cabinet appointments. He is nominating Gina McCarthy, who heads the EPA's air and radiation office, as the agency's next administrator, MIT physicist Ernest Moniz as Energy Secretary, and Walmart's Sylvia Matthews Burwell as his next budget director, report ABC's Jonathan Karl and Mary Bruce. Moniz is none too popular with environmentalists who say he is booster of fossil fuels. But Burwell and McCarthy would bring more diversity to Obama's second-term Cabinet, following criticism that top positions have all been filled by men. The announcements take place at 10:15 a.m. ET and come ahead of today's afternoon Cabinet meeting at the White House.
  • MORE ON THE NEW OMB CHIEF: ABC's Matthew Larotonda and Devin Dwyer report that if confirmed by the Senate, this will be Sylvia Matthews Burwell's second stint at OMB, having served there as a deputy to its former director, Jack Lew, during Bill Clinton's presidency in 1998. She first came to the White House after working in Clinton's 1992 election campaign and leading his economic transition team into the Oval Office. She also served as a deputy chief of staff under Erskine Bowles and in Treasury during that administration. Burwell currently leads the Walmart Foundation, the retailer's charity division, and previously ran the global development wing of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.
  • WHERE IN THE WORLD IS JOE BIDEN? Vice President Joe Biden delivers remarks at AIPAC's annual Policy Conference in Washington, DC this morning.


ABC's RICK KLEIN: Now the sequester moves to the real world. The massive budget cuts will be or won't be felt in small ways in the short term, and maybe in big ways eventually. The White House did itself few favors by exaggerating the early impact, which puts more pressure on the administration to be able to demonstrate what budget cuts will mean to people's everyday lives. We stand now at a fiscal truce, borne of exhaustion. It will take some doing to wake people up - and even more to stir Washington over the sequester again.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Last week we saw a schism in the Republican Party when over 100 Republicans (including Clint Eastwood) signed a legal brief in support of same sex marriage, which goes against the party platform and the views of the GOP leadership. One of the four former Republican governors who signed the brief is ex-New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman who says there are days she "absolutely" doesn't feel like part of the party because she says the GOP is being "defined by the talking heads and they don't for the most part represent me." Another Republican who is challenged more conservative elements in the party is Carlos Gutierrez, the former commerce secretary under George W. Bush. Gutierrez announced last week he is forming a new super PAC, Republicans for Immigration Reform. He says there are House members who "understand we have to fix the problem" of immigration, but "the concern is they get primaried." Gutierrez told ABC News, "We will be very involved in the primary process for the House to give members cover…If they have a rival from the right screaming amnesty or a primary challenger from the right screaming amnesty, those are the people we want to cover, we want to support and if that means going after the challenger that is screaming amnesty we will do that."

ABC's EMILY FRIEDMAN: There were lots of revealing remarks made by Mitt and Ann Romney during their first interview since losing the election last fall, but one of the things that stood out to me most is just how relaxed they both seemed. Of course, the pressure is off now but the way Mitt and Ann interacted with each other during the interview - Ann joking that she had a moment of regret that she turned down an offer to be on "Dancing with the Stars," and Mitt making sure Fox News' Chris Wallace knew that his new grandchildren aren't actually named "number 19? and "number 20? - was interesting. It was even more so in light of Ann's comment that she didn't feel like people got to "know Mitt for who he was." It made me wonder if we - the media and in turn, the public - had been able to see even more of these candid moments, if the campaign would have turned out differently.

ABC's MICHAEL FALCONE: After nearly four months of silence, now we have Mitt Romney's own take on one of the biggest reasons he came up short to President Obama last November: "The weakness that our campaign had and that I had is we weren't effective in taking my message primarily to minority voters, to Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, other minorities," he told Fox News' Chris Wallace. "We did very well with the majority population, but not with minority populations. And that was a - that was a failing. That was a real mistake." Romney's revelation is not exactly breaking news, but it's worth noting that Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus spent much of last week on a listening tour in three western states. "On his west coast swing he conducted listening sessions with various groups in each city: African Americans, Asians, Hispanic, tech leaders, and grassroots activists," a committee official noted. "On Friday, the Chairman sponsored the RNC's first annual luncheon honoring Black Republican Trailblazers at the Capitol Hill Club."


JANET NAPOLITANO: THE BORDER IS LESS SECURE BECAUSE OF BUDGET CUTS. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says that, although safety is her top priority, there is no way around cutting back on border patrol agents monitoring the country's borders because of the across-the-board spending cuts, known as "the sequester," that went into effect over the weekend. "The number of border patrol hours that will need to be reduced equates to the equivalent of 5,000 border patrol agents, so we have fewer border patrol agents between the ports of entry," the secretary of homeland security told ABC's senior national correspondent Jim Avila in an exclusive interview. "We're going to do everything we can to minimize that impact on our nation's security, but that's just the plain fact of it." WATCH:


ROMNEY ON HIS WHITE HOUSE LOSS: 'IT KILLS ME NOT TO BE THERE.' A reflective Mitt Romney blamed his loss in the presidential election last November to his inability to connect with minorities, the former Republican nominee admitting to Fox News' Chris Wallace that it still "kills him" not to be in Washington, ABC's Emily Friedman reports. In this interview, his first since losing to President Obama, the former Massachusetts governor who received 47 percent of the vote to the president's 51 percent, spoke candidly about his disappointment on election night. Romney said it was a "slow recognition" that he'd lost the campaign, but when Florida was reported to be a close race - a state his campaign thought they'd win easily - he began to realize his odds of winning were waning. "We were convinced we would win," Romney said. "My heart said we were going to win. "It's hard, it's emotional," he said. "There was such passion in the people who were helping us, I just felt we'd really let them down." Ann Romney added that she cried on election night, and though she described herself as being "mostly over" the loss, she confessed that she still cries. "I mourn the fact that he's not [in the White House]," she said. "I totally believe if Mitt were there in the office we would not be facing sequestration." Romney, who taped the interview in the San Diego home of his youngest son Craig earlier in the week, said bluntly, "I still care," when asked what life is like watching business in Washington go on without him. "I wish I were there," he said. "It kills me to not be there, to not be in the White House doing what needs to be done."

DENNIS RODMAN: KIM JONG UN WANTS PRESIDENT OBAMA TO 'CALL HIM.' In his first interview since returning to the U.S. from an unprecedented visit to North Korea last week, former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he bears a message for President Obama from the country's oppressive leader, Kim Jong Un. "He wants Obama to do one thing: Call him," Rodman told ABC's George Stephanopoulos on "This Week." "He said, 'If you can, Dennis - I don't want [to] do war. I don't want to do war.' He said that to me." ABC's Kari Rea and Julie Percha report that the athlete also offered Kim some diplomatic advice for potential future talks with President Obama. "[Kim] loves basketball. And I said the same thing, I said, 'Obama loves basketball.' Let's start there," Rodman said. Rodman's comments come just days after the basketball star shocked the world with an unexpected trip to Pyongyang, North Korea, becoming the first known American to publicly meet with the mysterious Kim since he assumed command of the totalitarian nation after the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il in 2011. The young leader has defied U.N. sanctions by continuing to develop North Korea's nuclear arms and missile program, which he says is aimed at the U.S. Kim is often regarded as one of the world's most oppressive leaders, presiding over prison camps and allowing millions of his own people to starve.

KELLY AYOTTE KEEPS DOOR OPEN FOR 'BIG AGREEMENT' ON BUDGET. While the White House and Congress failed to reach an agreement to avoid automatic spending cuts that began taking effect on March 1, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., said she is still open to the idea of a "big agreement" to address the country's long-term fiscal challenges, as long as it addresses both tax reform and entitlement reform. "If we're going to increase revenue again it's got to go to the debt with real entitlement reform and real tax reform, where you actually lower rates," Ayotte told ABC's George Stephanopoulos yesterday on "This Week." "Absolutely I think we need to do a big agreement for the country. Because we haven't dealt with the fundamental drivers of our debt." When asked if she would accept a larger agreement that raises tax revenues, Ayotte said she would not agree to tax increases that "increase more government," but only if they are applied to reducing the debt. "I am willing to say if we take the form of lowering rates, so that we can focus on economic growth, and then we take a portion of that and apply it to the debt with real entitlement reform - but it has to go to the debt," Ayotte said. "This sequester has to be dealt with within existing spending and alternative cuts, and we need real entitlement reform and real tax reform. That's what we need for the country if we're going to drive down our debt and also be focused on economic growth."

WEEK IN REVIEW: A "This Week" Roundtable with Matthew Dowd, Cokie Roberts, James Carville, Paul Gigot, and Mia Love discusses the week in politics. WATCH:

ANALYSIS: BUDGET FIGHT BECOMES PRESIDENT OBAMA'S BIG GAMBLE. President Obama's budget gamble has only gotten bigger, even as Washington's response to the self-inflicted crisis has gotten smaller, writes ABC's Rick Klein. Now that the sequester has gone into effect, the president is in the awkward place of rooting for it to be felt as he and his administration have predicted. Beyond that, the president's vision for governance is being put to an extraordinary test. With the two sides drained and declaring something of a weary truce, the president's entire strategy for restoring the latest cuts depends on the public rising up and rejecting cuts to government services. "The question is, can the American people help persuade their members of Congress to do the right thing?" Obama said Friday. If pressure forces the GOP-led House to capitulate, the president may yet win the war with tea party forces that have irrevocably altered the course of his time in office. Get the public engaged in this fight enough to convince Republicans who've worked with the president on virtually nothing, and that's a bright spot in a beleaguered Washington. If he loses this battle, though, he'll find himself locked in perpetual spending crises at least through next year's congressional elections. The president may ultimately have to cater to Republican demands for even deeper spending cuts, with new tax revenues all but off the table.


DEMOCRATS RELEASE NEW SEQUESTER VIDEO. A Democratic National Committee official passes a new video along to The Note: "John Boehner may have gotten 98 percent of what he wanted with these cuts, but communities across the country are bracing for their harmful impact. As President Obama made clear, these cuts are not smart, they are not fair, and they don't need to happen if congressional Republicans step up and do what's right - accept a balanced approach to growing our economy and reducing our deficit." WATCH:


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