Gates At War, Obama On Defense

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • LUNCH BUDDIES: One day after former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates' scathing critique of Vice President Joe Biden's was exposed, the White House will grant photographers access to the president and vice president's lunch - normally a private meeting. The rare occasion to invite press to photograph this meal will offer the president an opportunity to show solidarity with his VP. The White House defended Biden from Gates' comments on Tuesday, calling him a "leading statesmen of his time" and arguing he "has helped advance America's leadership in the world." On the campaign trail in 2012, Biden often boasted of these private lunches as he tried to describe how close of a relationship he shared with the president.
  • WORD FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden: "The President deeply appreciates Bob Gates' service as Secretary of Defense, and his lifetime of service to our country. Deliberations over our policy on Afghanistan have been widely reported on over the years, and it is well known that the President has been committed to achieving the mission of disrupting, dismantling and defeating al Qaeda, while also ensuring that we have a clear plan for winding down the war, which will end this year. As has always been the case, the President welcomes differences of view among his national security team, which broaden his options and enhance our policies. The President wishes Secretary Gates well as he recovers from his recent injury, and discusses his book."
  • 'THE PRESIDENT DISAGREES': "The President disagrees with Secretary Gates' assessment," Hayden continued, "from his leadership on the Balkans in the Senate, to his efforts to end the war in Iraq, Joe Biden has been one of the leading statesmen of his time, and has helped advance America's leadership in the world. President Obama relies on his good counsel every day." (h/t ABC's DEVIN DWYER)


ABC's RICK KLEIN: It turns out Robert Gates had a thing or two to say. This new book is a blockbuster on several levels. It's from an impeccable, respected, true-insider source with only mildly partisan leanings; it directly questions President Obama's wartime leadership and motivations; it displays particular mistrust and disdain even for Vice President Joe Biden; it tweaks Hillary Rodham Clinton, too, and even hints at a wedge between Obama and Clinton when it comes to White House meddling in national-security affairs. Above all, it confirms many of the worst suspicions about the Obama White House, at a time of significant backsliding in Iraq and lingering concerns in Afghanistan. If you think it's not worrisome to the Obama inner circle, witness how much time the president is spending with his vice president today.

ABC's TOM SHINE: Much of the attention has been focused on what Bob Gates says about Obama in his new book, but what he says about Congress absolutely stunning. Gates calls Congress "truly ugly," and talks about congressional hearings being run as though "members were in a permanent state of outrage or suffered from some sort of mental duress that warranted confinement or at least anger management." That from the Wall Street Journal account of what is in the book. "I saw most of Congress as uncivil, incompetent at fulfilling their basic constitutional responsibilities, (such as timely appropriations), micromanagerial, parochial, hypocritical, egotistical, thin-skinned and prone to put self (and reelection) before country…I also bristled at what's become of congressional hearings, where rude, insulting, belittling, bullying and all too often personal attacks on witnesses by members of congress violated nearly every norm of civil behavior." Wow!

ABC's JEFF ZELENY: Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell is making it clear that Democrats have a fight on their hands in the debate over income inequality. On the Senate floor he accused Democrats of trying to use the poor for "political gain." And Rand Paul told reporters that black Americans still face double-digit unemployment, which he says is a sign that Democratic policies aren't working. But the fact that six Republicans crossed party lines to allow a debate on extending unemployment suggests the politics of this issue aren't clean or simple. More and more Republicans feel uneasy about being portrayed as being on the side of saying no to the poor. The sticking point remains offsetting the cost of extending the jobless benefits. No, it's never been a requirement before, but there are signs President Obama is serious enough about getting this issue resolved that he's willing to make a deal and find budget savings somewhere, which might keep those six Republicans on board when the final vote on the measure comes, either later this week or early next week.


MARCO RUBIO'S BIG POVERTY GAMBLE. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., is making another big bid to establish himself as of one of the leaders of his party with a speech on poverty and economic mobility today, ABC's ABBY PHILLIP notes. The remarks are a critical counterpoint to this year's Democrat strategy of pushing hard for minimum wage increases and more to address the growing sense of economic insecurity in America. While Rubio is expected to lay out concrete proposals for addressing economic inequality, the devil will be in the details. If he tacks too far to the center, he runs the risk of alienating the already angry conservative base with proposals that are too conciliatory to the social safety net. Veer too far to the right, and Rubio's initiatives could be dismissed as insufficiently empathetic to the plight of the poor.

-FOR CLUES AS TO HOW RUBIO MIGHT DEAL WITH THE ISSUE OF POVERTY AND THE SAFETY NET, look no further than Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. For the past five years, Brooks has been ginning up a minor revolution within the Republican Party. He pictures this: a GOP that fights explicitly for the interests of the poor. Today, as Rubio delivers his address marking the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty (not coincidentally in the LBJ room on Capitol Hill), he'll undoubtedly be voicing a variation on Brooks' doctrine. (The American Enterprise Institute is a host of the event, and Brooks will introduce Rubio.)

READY FOR HILLARY, READY FOR CASH. There's no candidate yet, but the Ready for Hillary super PAC is fundraising like it's 2016. The group announced it has raised more than $4 million in 2013 from donations from 33,631 Americans, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE reports. While $4 million may not sound like that much in the new normal of billion dollar campaigns, the group has capped donations at $25,000. It wants to make sure it doesn't stretch high-dollar donors before there is an actual campaign while collecting a list of as many names as possible. The amount is more than double the $1.25 million it raised during the first full quarter of active solicitations. The group says the average donation is $82. They also brought in more than 25,000 new contributors during the second half of 2013, which they say is three and a half times the number of contributors from the first six months of the year. Ninety-eight percent of donations were less than $100 and almost 18,000 were for the all-important amount of $20.16, which was also the ticket price for many of the group's fundraising events. Ready for Hillary had donors from all 50 states as well as U.S. territories and donations from Americans living abroad.

COCAINE CONGRESSMAN RETURNS FROM REHAB TO FACE CHALLENGER. Trey Radel, the Florida freshman congressman charged with cocaine possession last November, returned to the Capitol yesterday after a stint in rehab only to learn that he'd picked up a primary challenger. Paige Kreegel, a former member of the Florida State House, formally launched a campaign to unseat Radel Tuesday, ABC's JOHN PARKINSON notes. Radel invited journalists into his congressional office to apologize for his actions and refocus his attention on his duties as a Member of Congress, although he would not divulge whether he would seek re-election this fall. "I cannot express how sorry I am. I ask for your forgiveness. I've let down our entire country. I have let down my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, and I've let down my family," Radel said contritely. "Re-election is the absolute last thing on my mind. The most important thing right now is my health, my family and getting back to finding solutions and getting something done." Late last year, Radel was the target of an undercover sting operation when he was busted for possession of cocaine. He pleaded guilty in a Washington, D.C. Superior Court and was placed on one year's probation with "minimal supervision."

-MORE FROM TREY: Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, Radel pledged to "work hard every single day" to rebuild trust with his constituents, congressional colleagues and family. He said he has not yet spoken to House Speaker John Boehner since leaving a Florida rehab facility on Dec. 19, although he said he had an appointment to meet with the speaker this week. "From here, I've built a support system, for the rest of my life, to carry me through this," he said. "I will do that to deal with this very personal issue, and now I'm hoping to deal with the issues that face our country. And in doing so I will do it one day at a time."

FOR WOMAN WHO LOST JOBLESS BENEFITS, RELIEF MAY COME TOO LATE. Standing behind President Obama yesterday at the White House were a group of unemployed workers whose long-term jobless benefits have been cut off. One of them, Kathy Biscotti, said she was happy to be invited to the event, but is still panicked about losing her home, worried that even if Congress does vote to extend long-term unemployment benefits for three months, it may be too late, ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE notes. "I'm just concerned about it taking a long time and in the meantime what's going to happen?" Biscotti said from her home in Baltimore after the event. Biscotti, 51, is one of the estimated 1.3 million long-term unemployed workers who lost their federal emergency unemployment benefits late last month. The benefits, which many Republicans oppose unless the costs are offset in other parts of the budget, were left out of the bipartisan federal budget agreement reached last month. Biscotti, who stood right behind the president wearing a red scarf, said she told President Obama, "We have to get these benefits reinstated so I can afford to look for a job." She said he responded, "We're going to do all we can."

-IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: Overcoming GOP opposition, the Senate yesterday cleared the way for a vote on extending long-term unemployment benefits for three months, but still must wrestle over a way to fund the measure, ABC's CHRIS GOOD and ARLETTE SAENZ report. Democrats and Republicans will now negotiate over a final bill and what amendments to offer, with an eye toward how to pay for it. Another vote, again requiring 60 votes, barring an agreement between party leaders, could come later this week or next. Six Republican senators - Kelly Ayotte, N.H.; Dan Coats, Ind.; Susan Collins, Maine; Dean Heller, Nev.; Lisa Murkowski, Alaska; and Rob Portman, Ohio - broke away from Republican leaders who opposed the $6 billion bill on the grounds that it adds to the deficit without offsetting cuts or government fees. The final vote was 60-37, in favor of advancing toward up to 30 hours of debate on the bill.

TOP GENERAL SAYS FALLUJAH FIGHTING IS 'DISAPPOINTING' AND 'CONCERNING'. Gen. Ray Odierno, the former top U.S. general in Iraq, said yesterday the current deterioration of security in that country is "concerning" and "disappointing to all of us." Iraq's security forces have struggled this week to retake the western Iraqi cities of Fallujah and Ramadi, which have been seized by al Qaeda fighters, according to ABC's LUIS MARTINEZ. In 2004, Fallujah was the scene of the bloodiest battles of the war in Iraq. "Obviously, it's disappointing to all of us to see the deterioration of the security inside of Iraq," Odierno said at a National Press Club luncheon yesterday. Odierno, who is currently the Army Chief of Staff, served as the Commander of Multi-National Forces Iraq from September 2008 to December 2009. When the last American troops left Iraq at the end of 2011, violence was at its lowest level in years, he said. "I believe we left it in a place where it was capable to move forward," said Odierno. "That security situation has now devolved into something that is, in my mind, concerning."


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@shearm: The new Times website looks pretty stunning, if you ask me. Not dramatically different, but beautiful all around.