Putin Pushes Back

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • PUTIN, DEFIANT : Russian President Vladimir Putin took more steps today toward annexing Crimea, despite warnings from President Obama that doing so would incur further U.S. sanctions. In a decree, Putin notified his country's legislature about Crimea's proposal to join the Russian Federation and he strongly urged lawmakers to pass it quickly. Putin also addressed lawmakers today and discussed Crimea and Ukraine, taking a vocal stance against U.S. and European sanctions, ABC's KIRIT RADIA and MOLLY HUNTER note. "Crimea has always been an integral part of Russia in the hearts and minds of people," Putin said in front of a joint session of parliament that reached deep into Russian and Soviet history to justify the annexation of Crimea. Putin struck out, lambasting the West and accusing the U.S. of being guided in its foreign policy not by international law but by the "rule of the gun." http://abcn.ws/1g69pAe
  • WORD FROM THE WHITE HOUSE: "I'm not going to get into a game of hinting or indicating who might be next or the steps we might take next, except to make clear that should Russia engage in further provocation, should it not avail itself of the opportunity to resolve the situation in Crimea and more broadly with Ukraine in a diplomatic and legal way that there will be more costs and there will be more sanctions," White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said yesterday, when asked by ABC's JONATHAN KARL if sanctions against Putin were on the table. Going forward, Carney warned that "the more Russia does to violate Ukraine's territorial integrity, to unlawfully seize Ukrainian assets, to ignore Ukraine's sovereignty, the higher the price will be to Russia and the higher the - and more intense the isolation that Russia will suffer as a result of it."


ABC's RICK KLEIN: Today's primaries in Illinois will be low-turnout affairs, with the biggest surprise, perhaps, that embattled Gov. Pat Quinn managed not to draw a major Democratic challenger. (That is, aside from the possible headline of a former Miss America winning the GOP primary for a House seat.) But the biggest story of the day may be in who matches up against Quinn in the general election. Venture capitalist Bruce Rauner is leading in pre-election polls, as he seeks to break the bad-luck streak of wealthy candidates in Illinois. Democrats see the potential to make Rauner into a mini-Mitt - an out-of-touch rich guy detached from problems of regular people. Rauner's statements on the minimum wage - he came out in favor of lowering the state-mandated minimum, only to quickly backtrack - play into that argument, in a battle-testing of a campaign issue Democrats are hoping to use to drive up Democratic turnout around the country.

ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE: Americans United for Change is hitting the road heading out on a bus tour they are calling "Give America a Raise" to try and press Republicans to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 an hour. The tour begins in Bangor, Maine on Monday making ten stops around the country including Nashua, New Hampshire, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Chicago, ending on April 3rd in DC at an event outside the U.S. Capitol. The group says at at each stop low wage workers will be telling their own stories and they will be joined by local lawmakers, labor leaders, candidates, and members of the Senate. They describe their bus as a 45' long, 16 ton anti-poverty billboard on wheels and it will make stops outside of Republican members of congress that oppose raising the minimum wage. In a statement the president of Americans United for Change Brad Woodhouse noted "It's been more than five years since these workers have gotten a raise - workers that include child care providers, janitors, and nursing assistants and who are 35 years old on average." "It was hard enough to live on $15,000 a year in 2009, and it's near impossible in 2014. All that stands in the way of stronger economy built from the middle out are Tea Party Republicans in Congress who only seem to care about minimum tax responsibility for huge corporations that outsource job," Woodhouse said.


'BETTER LATE THAN NEVER': AWARDING 24 BELATED MEDALS OF HONOR. Sgt. 1st Class Melvin Morris was just 27 when his actions during the Vietnam War earned him the Medal of Honor, but it wasn't until now, at age 72, that Morris will be properly acknowledged. President Obama will recognize Morris today, along with 23 other overdue Medal of Honor recipients who served during World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam, to which Morris said "better late than never." The extraordinary presentation of 24 Medals of Honor - the largest such ceremony since World War II - is the culmination of a 12-year review by the Pentagon to uncover cases where the nation's highest honor for combat valor was deserved but overlooked because of racial and ethnic discrimination. But Morris, an African-American who served as one of the first Green Berets, told ABC's JONATHAN KARL that he didn't believe he was discriminated against because of his race. http://yhoo.it/1cUNtrd


5 THINGS REPUBLICANS ACCOMPLISHED SINCE 2012 (AND 5 THINGS THEY STILL NEED TO DO). It's been a year since the Republican Party unveiled their "Growth and Opportunity Project," otherwise known as the GOP autopsy. Launched after the 2012 presidential loss, five leaders from the Republican Party came together to try and make sure a wipe-out like that never happens again by making key changes. Sally Bradshaw, the RNC committeewoman from Florida, described the report on a conference call Monday as a "comprehensive look at where we failed" after "own(ing)" up to their "loss." Last week's GOP victory in an open House race in Florida has the party confident for 2014, but what has the Republican Party really accomplished this year and what do they still need to do? ABC's SHUSHANNAH WALSHE takes a look: http://abcn.ws/1gBBf63

ARE SECRET CLINTON WHITE HOUSE TAPES LOST TO HISTORY? Among the thousands of pages of documents released by the Clinton Library recently, two had this tantalizing notation at the top: "Tape One, Side One." That stamp appeared on transcripts of two conversations Bill Clinton had behind closed doors with aides inside the Oval Office. They included the president's ribald remarks on race, frank talk about gays, and even how to prepare for Y2K. And they were captured on cassette tapes, ABC's STEVEN PORTNOY reports. All of which raises the question: Could there be "Clinton Tapes" - in the tradition of Nixon, Kennedy and LBJ? Might we hear Clinton in his famous Arkansas twang musing that Rep. Tom DeLay was "probably" to blame for the notorious dragging death of a black man? Could we hear Clinton admit that talking about gays caused his poll numbers to drop? Or that he wishes he could advise Americans to buy shotgun shells before the millennium? When ABC News asked for copies of the tapes, officials at the Clinton Library (part of the National Archives and Records Administration) said they couldn't find them. "The creation of this particular audio tape, its use, and any transcription [aides] chose to make were all done by White House staff prior to the transfer of Clinton Presidential records to NARA, and as such we simply don't know much more than what can be found by searching the holdings as our Archival staff has done," library official Diane LeBlanc wrote ABC News in an e-mail. http://abcn.ws/1fEAViq

CHELSEA CLINTON: HEART SURGERY 'RADICALLY CHANGED' MY DAD. Bill Clinton's efforts to combat heart disease may be working, notes ABC's LIZ KREUTZ. When asked about her father's past health issues and his recent efforts to get healthy, Chelsea Clinton said Bill Clinton's heart may be the youngest it's been in a decade: "He went to the doctor recently," Clinton said yesterday during the web series, 'Mondays with Marlo.' "And his doctor told him that his heart today is much younger than it was even 10 years ago." Since undergoing heart surgery in 2010, the former President, 67, has drastically changed his lifestyle - going vegan and losing more than 30-pounds in an effort to fight against his longtime struggle with heart disease. "He's probably the world's most famous vegan," Chelsea said. "He walks four times a week diligently wherever he is in the world. And he's so determined to be an advocate for other men and men in particular to go to the doctors, as he did when he started to not feel well. And then to make the necessary changes in their life so hopefully they can live a long time." http://abcn.ws/1iWW3nE

WHAT'S ON ( AND NOT ON) MICHELLE OBAMA CHINA AGENDA? White House advisers on Monday described First Lady Michelle Obama's upcoming official trip to China as focused on cultural exchanges and the value of education, not on human rights and divisive issues they say are discussed when her husband speaks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, according to ABC's ANN COMPTON. "The nature of her visit is really quite different," said Ben Rhodes, deputy National Security advisor for Strategic Communications, on a conference call with reporters. "What the First Lady really brings is the power of her own story, the power of American values." The first lady will tell of her own modest upbringing when she visits schools in Beijing and Chengdu, with a side trip to see the legendary terracotta warriors in the interior city of Xi'an. Teen daughter Malia Obama and her younger sister Sasha will be along during their spring break, as well as their grandmother Marian Robinson. The three generations are meant to be a nod to the value Chinese put on family, according to Michelle Obama's Chief of Staff Tina Tchen, herself a first generation Chinese American. China's first lady Peng Liyuan will dine with Mrs. Obama in Beijing but there is no scheduled meeting with President Xi. http://abcn.ws/1kCOZhH

WHY IS VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN VISITING UKRAINE'S BACKYARD? With the specter of Russian aggression looming large over Europe, Vice President Joe Biden will meet with leaders this week who represent Poland and the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, ABC's ALI WEINBERG reports. Biden's message to them over the next two days will be clear - the United States, NATO and the EU have your back but please let us handle it and don't make things worse! The Baltics have a long history with the kind of Russian interference seen in Crimea: all three nations were forced to sign pacts permitting military bases just before they were annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 via rigged elections (sound familiar)? Now that Russia has made its move in Ukraine, Baltic leaders have been among the most vocal in the European Union calling for tough sanctions. In addition, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania also have significant Russian-speaking populations who don't exactly live in harmony - increasing the fear of another Crimea. http://abcn.ws/1iX2PK7


"TED CRUZ LOGGING SERIOUS TIME IN IOWA," by the Associated Press' Will Weissert. Texas tea party darling U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz is making his fourth trip to Iowa in eight months, logging serious face-time before most other potential 2016 White House hopefuls in the state that kicks off presidential voting. Cruz will keynote a Network of Iowa Christian Home Educators' event Tuesday in Des Moines before heading to Mason City for a GOP fundraiser with Iowa's U.S. Rep. Steve King, with whom Cruz went pheasant hunting. The trip comes five months after Cruz addressed the Iowa Republican Party's annual Ronald Reagan dinner, and he met with Christian conservatives and evangelical leaders during two visits last summer. That's more Iowa trips than any of the other Republicans mentioned as possible presidential contenders, except for fellow tea party-backed U.S. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky. But Cruz's brand of social conservatism may excite much of the party's base more easily than Paul's Libertarian ideals. … Cruz spokeswoman Catherine Frazier insists that too much shouldn't be read into his travels. 'He just goes where he's invited,' Frazier said." http://abcn.ws/1dkrkNT


?@KiritRadia: Flashback to Obama in 2012 debate "The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back." http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/video/obama-romney-1980s-now-calling-foreign-policy-back-17539135 …

@DHBerman: Ex-Chris Christie aide Bill Stepien lands at GOP firm http://www.politico.com/story/2014/03/ex-chris-christie-aide-bill-stepien-george-washington-bridge-scandal-104757.html … via @KenVogel

@ByronYork: GOP probably misreading Obamacare lesson, too. Powerful issue, still not public's top concern… http://ow.ly/uHDuH

?@Timodc: Hbd to @Reince who is ringing in the big 4-2 on the job talking @GOP Growth & Opportunity progress. Bring that man some cake.

@MarkHalperin: Op-ed by @MittRomney in @WSJ hits @BarackObama foreign policy. http://on.wsj.com/1nzdnWd . Critical analysis, I-told-you-so and/or Mitt '16?