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First thoughts: Caving in

White House and Democrats continue to cave in on the spending fight, while House Republicans haven’t budged an inch… Tea Party Patriots rally in DC puts the Tea Party back in the spotlight… The question is: Does it have staying power as a political force?... Gingrich -- who knows a thing or two about spending fights and government shutdowns -- speaks to the House GOP freshmen… Romney whacks Obama on jobs… It has become harder and harder to take Donald Trump seriously… He appears on "Daily Rundown" this morning... “Andrea Mitchell Reports” interviews Mitch Daniels… And NBC’s David Gregory sat down with RNC Chair Priebus. 

From NBC's Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Caving in: If the current Washington fight over spending was a game of chicken, the Obama White House would already be pulled over on the side of the road, as House Republicans continue to barrel down the deserted highway. The fact is, the White House and Senate Democrats keep caving, while House Republicans -- at least publicly -- have yet to budge an inch. The latest development, as Politico reports, is that the administration has agreed to an overall cut of $33 billion, which is near the number that the House leadership originally proposed (before the Tea Party caucus forced it to go higher). And now the White House appears to be backing away from its demand that no riders be attached to the deal. Press Secretary Jay Carney said there is no veto threat from the White House on a deal that contains ANY riders, as was originally the position. And here’s what Vice President Biden said on the matter yesterday: “The president and I are not really big on any riders at all. But this is a process which is normal for the House and Senate Appropriations Committees to get into the details.  We’ve made it clear what we think are non-starters, both in numbers and riders. But I’m not going to go -- I’m not going to negotiate out here.”  

*** Tea Party back in the spotlight: The Tea Party was one of the most fascinating stories of the 2010 election season. It energized the conservative movement and opposition to President Obama; it served to re-brand the GOP away from Bush and Cheney; and it ended up costing Republicans three Senate seats. And for the first time since Republicans won control of the House in November -- which was fueled by the conservative movement -- the Tea Party protests have returned to DC. At noon ET, the group Tea Party Patriots is holding a rally outside the Capitol to urge GOP lawmakers to hold firm in the spending battle. Speakers include Republican Reps. Michele Bachmann, Steve King, and Mike Pence.

*** But does the movement have staying power? Yet here’s the question we’ve been pondering: Will the Tea Party continue to have staying power as a political force? It certainly has shown its muscle in the spending fight. And Bachmann’s potential presidential candidacy wouldn’t be possible without the Tea Party. But a new CNN poll finds that the movement’s unfavorable rating has spiked with 47% holding a negative view of the Tea Party (versus 32% positive). That’s up from 43% unfavorable rating (versus 37% positive) back in December. It’s a trend we’ve also seen in our NBC/WSJ poll. And strikingly, independents have turned against the Tea Party. In the CNN poll, the movement has a 61%-18% fav/unfav among Republicans, a 10%-71% fav/unfav among Dems, and a 31%-48% fav/unfav among indies.

*** Newt speaks to the GOP freshmen: By the way, the Tea Party Patriots aren’t the only ones who will be rallying GOP House members today. Newt Gingrich -- who knows a thing or two about spending fights and government shutdowns -- will be meeting with the House Republican freshmen. He also attends a congressional Health Care Caucus Policy forum at 12:30 pm ET.

*** Romney whacks Obama on jobs: In a USA Today op-ed, Mitt Romney hits Obama not on the topics du jour (Libya and the spending fight), but rather on job creation. “President Obama didn't cause the recession, but he made it worse and caused it to last longer. From the outset, he inaugurated the most anti-investment, anti-business, anti-jobs policies we have seen since Jimmy Carter. Further, the White House has still not crafted any discernible plan to put Americans back to work.” We’ll find out tomorrow -- with the monthly jobs report -- whether the employment situation is as powerful a GOP weapon against Obama as it was last year, or whether things have really changed. Last month, 192,000 jobs were added to the economy. By the way, this is yet more evidence that Romney is trying to stick to the balancing act of preserving a general election strategy but not getting sucked into specific primary fights.

*** T-Paw backs Ohio legislation: On the other hand… In Ohio yesterday, Tim Pawlenty backed the Ohio legislation curbing collective-bargaining rights, which cleared the state's legislature last night. "The Ohio Republican Party and Gov. Kasich and the legislators who supported this bill are having the courage to tell the truth about a real problem that's taken down the budgets of government at the state level," Pawlenty said, per the Columbus Dispatch. "It's not always going to be easy, it's not always going to be popular, but it's the right thing to do... They're trying to fix a real problem instead of ducking, bobbing and weaving." The question is whether this is good politics to win Ohio in a general election. As the Dispatch adds, "A Quinnipiac University poll of Ohio voters last week showed that only 30 percent approve of Kasich's job performance."

*** An Unserious Man: Donald Trump is making it harder and harder to be taken seriously. And it’s worth asking -- as we did regarding Linda McMahon and WWE -- whether it could be bad for business, too. After all, businessmen and businesswoman never want to alienate customers, right? On FOX last night, NBC’s Lauren Selsky reports, Bill O’Reilly questioned Trump if he REALLY believes the debunked conspiracy theory that President Obama wasn’t born in the United States. Trump stood his ground, and when O’Reilly brought up the president’s published birth announcement in a Hawaii newspaper, the potential presidential candidate gave this answer: How could have Obama’s parents -- a “hippie” mother and a Kenyan father who “split” -- afforded to put an announcement in a newspaper. Trump will be on "Daily Rundown" later this morning where will ask if this is nothing more than a publicity stunt.

*** 2012 watch: There’s a New Hampshire straw poll at 7:00 pm ET hosted by the St. Anselm College Republicans. And Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels -- who may or may not run for president -- appears on MSNBC’s “Andrea Mitchell Reports” (as does Sen. Jim Webb and others).  

*** Priebus meets the press (sort of): NBC’s David Gregory sat down for a new edition of the mid-week Meet the Press “Press Pass” with the new chairman of the Republican National Committee, Reince Priebus, who says his job during the first two months of his tenure has been to “rebuild trust and credibility” in the RNC. “My job is to rebuild trust and credibility at the RNC. And that's a tough place to start when you have to rebuild trust that you're spending money wisely, that you're not on private planes; you're not in private limousines,” he said. Meanwhile, the RNC is coming out this morning with a video hitting President Obama for not dealing with entitlements: “Despite Claiming That He’s Serious About Fiscal Responsibility, President Obama Has Shown No Ability To Make The Hard Choices To Rein In The Deficit.”

Countdown to continuing resolution’s expiration: 8 days
Countdown to NY-26 special election: 54 days
Countdown to Iowa GOP straw poll: 134 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 222 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 312 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up

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