Mitt Romney's Game Of Phones

By MICHAEL FALCONE ( @michaelpfalcone )


  • CALL ME MAYBE?: Mitt Romney, who is considering mounting a third run for the White House in 2016, is convening two invitation-only conference calls today, ABC's RICK KLEIN and JEFF ZELENY report. The first is with a small group of aides, associates, and members of his inner circle in which Romney will seek guidance and tell them what he's thinking. The second will involve a far broader group of donors and supporters, a close Romney associate confirms to ABC News. This is not expected to be a formal declaration of candidacy - just moving to the "next phase." There's no confirmation of what he will say but the associate said, "It's going to be big." All signals, public and private, are that Romney is moving toward a run. But there is worry in Romney world of defections. The second call, at 11 a.m. Eastern, comes just three weeks after he first told a meeting of donors in New York City that he might be interested in running in 2016 after months of firm denials. Romney is scheduled to be in New York today for a charity luncheon where his wife, Ann, as well as Chelsea Clinton and her husband are expected to be in attendance.
  • MIAMI BOUND: The biggest hire - and defection - so far in the 2016 sweepstakes shocked and agitated members of Romney's inner circle yesterday, ABC's JEFF ZELENY reports, when Jeb Bush announced he was signing up David Kochel to oversee his exploratory efforts and ultimately run his campaign. Kochel is one of the best Republican operatives in the business, based in Iowa, but involved in races across the country. He was a core part of Romney's 2008 and 2012 teams, but he is also close to Mike Murphy and others in Bush world. It's a sign that Bush is more serious than ever about running a campaign not steeped in Washington wisdom. Will other Romney admirers follow suit or stick with Mitt?
  • INSIDE MITT'S HEAD: Multiple aides say Romney has been encouraged by the reception he's gotten over the past few weeks, despite desertions by former aides and skeptical quotes from all corners of the Republican Party. They cite polls that show him a clear frontrunner, and maintain that Romney has as good a shot at the nomination or better than any of his rivals.
  • 'I'M ALREADY RICH' - NOW ON VIDEO AND VINE: By now everyone knows that Mitt Romney told an audience at Mississippi State University Wednesday evening, "You may have heard that I'm thinking of running for president again. … I'm not even thinking about getting rich from the speaking fees after I leave office. As you no doubt hear, I'm already rich." Now you can watch it:
  • MCCAIN MAKES HIS PICKS: From the latest ABC/ESPN "Capital Games" podcast: Sen. John McCain makes his Super Bowl pick as his state hosts the big game - Patriots. (As an Arizona Cardinals fan, he said, "I have mixed emotions about Mr. [Richard] Sherman.") And on 2016 - Sarah Palin or Lindsey Graham? "Dark horse, watch him coming up - Lindsey Graham," McCain said. "I have the greatest affection and appreciation for Sarah Palin. But I think that in this time of great national peril, with the rise of ISIS and the challenges we face worldwide, I think Lindsey is best equipped to address the challenges to our nation's security." PLAY IT: DOWNLOAD IT: And you can now subscribe to "Capital Games with ANDY KATZ and RICK KLEIN" free via iTunes.
  • ON THE TRAIL: Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee continues his book tour making stops in South Carolina and Georgia. Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry will keynote the Republican Party of Pennsylvania's Lincoln Day Dinner this evening in Harrisburg. Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul headlines the Dallas County GOP Reagan Day Dinner in Dallas. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will speak at the Fred Malek lecture series sponsored by the American Action Forum in DC. And New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie heads to the UK this weekend. -Shushannah Walshe

THIS WEEK ON 'THIS WEEK': Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker discusses his potential 2016 GOP presidential bid, only on "This Week" Sunday. And the powerhouse roundtable debates all the week's politics, with ABC News political analyst Matthew Dowd, ESPN columnist and CNN contributor LZ Granderson, PBS "NewsHour" co-host and managing editor Gwen Ifill, and National Review editor Rich Lowry. Be sure to use #ThisWeek when you tweet about the program. TUNE IN SUNDAY:



TALIBAN ARE NOT TERRORISTS, OR SO SAYS THE WHITE HOUSE. They act like terrorists, they regularly kill civilians like terrorists, but the White House does not consider the Afghan Taliban to be a terrorist group. "They do carry out tactics that are akin to terrorism. They do pursue terror attacks in an effort to try to advance their agenda," White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest explained Thursday, but "they have a different classification." Semantics aside, the Taliban is suspected in multiple attacks in recent days that have killed more than 30 people, including a suicide bombing attack on a funeral in Afghanistan Thursday that killed 16 and wounded 39, ABC's JONATHAN KARL reports. Even so, the White House does not call the Afghan Taliban a terrorist organization, Earnest explained, because they are "different than an organization like al Qaeda that has a much broader global aspiration to carry out acts of violence and acts of terror against Americans and American interests all around the globe." And even as Earnest was explaining why the Taliban are not terrorists, he slipped, calling them … "terrorists."

RAND PAUL IS TURNING OUT TO BE 2016's TROLLER-IN-CHIEF. Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, may be mulling a bid to be the next commander-in-chief in 2016, but he may have already earned the unofficial title of troller-in-chief with his pointed digs at his potential rivals - Democrats and Republicans alike, ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ notes. The latest came on Thursday when Team Paul released audio of a fake "secret tape" of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush talking about their 2016 runs. Paul hits his would-be rivals for being part of a dynasty. (But of course Paul doesn't point out that he too is following in the footsteps of a famous family member who once sought the presidency: Ron Paul). And on Wednesday, Paul used "#ThingsToRunFrom" to describe former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney.

COUNTDOWN TO 2016: WHAT WE KNOW ABOUT WHEN POTENTIAL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES WILL ANNOUNCE. With the 2016 presidential race heating up, tracking all the potential candidates can keep your head spinning. Though the list of possible White House hopefuls is growing by the day, no one has officially declared - yet. ABC's STACY CHEN AND STEPHANIE EBBS outline the full cast of characters likely to be a part of the 2016 contest, and what we know about when they plan to make it official.

SENATORS INTRODUCE LEGISLATION TO LIFT CUBA TRAVEL BAN. A bipartisan group of senators introduced legislation Thursday that would end the travel ban between the U.S. and Cuba - the first legislation to be introduced this year following President Obama's executive action to start opening diplomatic relations with Cuba. "We've tried this current policy that we have prohibiting travel for about 50 years, and it hasn't worked, so it's time for something new," Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, one of the sponsors of the bill, said. "It's time to allow Americans to travel freely to Cuba. ABC's ARLETTE SAENZ and JEFF ZELENY report that the legislation, titled "The Freedom to Travel to Cuba Act of 2015," is sponsored by four Republican and four Democratic senators.

YESTERDAY'S MCCAIN MOMENT. Sen. John McCain, R-Arizona, earned some applause inside a Senate Armed Services hearing Thursday morning after he erupted at protesters of former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, calling them "low-life scum." Protesters from the group CodePink swarmed behind Kissinger as he arrived alongside two other former Secretaries of State, Madeleine Albright and George Shultz, for a hearing on U.S. national security strategy, ABC's ALEX MALLIN notes. They held up signs calling Kissinger a criminal and chanted "arrest Henry Kissinger for war crimes" - citing some of his more controversial decisions during the Nixon and Ford administrations. "You know, you're going to have to shut up, or I'm going to have you arrested," McCain said as Capitol Hill Police tried to remove the protesters. "Get out of here you low-life scum." WATCH:


WHAT OBAMA'S BRO HUGS AND PARADE VISITS IN INDIA MEAN FOR THE US. During his landmark visit to India this week, President Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi swapped hugs, sat side-by-side at India's Republic Day Parade, and declared an era of "new trust" between the two nations. But for all the colorful festivities and declarations of good will, what did the visit actually accomplish? "Power Players" posed the question to the highest ranking U.S. diplomat to India, Ambassador Richard Verma, who explained why he believes the visit had "historic" implications. ABC's JIM AVILA reports from India. WATCH:


@DavidMDrucker: "A lot of Romney loyalists R frozen because they don't want 2 go against him. But the freeze will only last so long"

@tackettdc: Today: Obama will announce biomedical research plan @ropear

@brianjameswalsh: "McConnell vowed to change the way the Senate conducts its business… He's followed through with his word."

@LoganDobson: Guy reading Marco Rubio's An American Son on the metro this morning: you might be a bit much, even for this town

@moody: Because you woke up this morning wondering, @Madeleine Albright says she's rooting for the Pats in the Super Bowl.