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Congress: Gun debate begins on Capitol Hill

Wayne LaPierre, the head of the NRA takes to Capitol Hill for a hearing Wednesday on preventing gun violence. Here’s a preview of what he’ll say from NBC’s Kasie Hunt: “The NRA strategy, at least according to prepared testimony, remains the same as it has since 20 children and six adults were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.: push for armed guards in schools and insist that measures like an assault weapons ban and universal background checks won’t help matters.”

A Senate Democratic aide confirms to First Read that former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is expected to appear at this morning’s hearing on preventing gun violence before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The Senate Judiciary Committee would not confirm Giffords’ appearance. But a spokesperson did tell NBC’s Tony Capra: “Chairman Leahy asked if GOP would have a problem is she spoke for a minute before her husband. They said they didn't know if she would or not, but left it open."

Giffords’ husband, Mark Kelly, has already been announced to testify.

The Washington Post: “Former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) is expected to testify Wednesday at a Senate hearing on gun violence, lending the emotional resonance of her experience with the issue to what had already promised to be a dramatic exchange between lawmakers and advocates for and against stricter gun-control laws.” She’s expected to give opening remarks.”

The Huffington Post reports that she will deliver opening remarks. Reuters reports that she will “make an unannounced appearance.”

Chuck Hagel’s hearings to become Defense Secretary begin Thursday. Roll Call: “While Republican Chuck Hagel appears likely to win confirmation to lead the Pentagon, many senators in both parties are still holding back their formal endorsements or opposition.” But at least one Republican is supporting him: “Thad Cochran of Mississippi, the ranking member on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, who said Tuesday that he plans to vote for confirmation.”

But, what about Benghazi? That’s Lindsey Graham’s question. Graham threatened yesterday to put a hold on Hagel’s nomination until current Defense Secretary Leon Panetta testifies on Benghazi. Here was Graham on Twitter: “I'm not going to vote on a new Secretary of Defense until the old Sec. of Defense, Leon Panetta, testifies about what happened in Benghazi.” And: “Why were there no military assets available on September the 11th when our consulate in Benghazi was under attack?”

He echoed that on FOX. But, Roll Call notes, “Carl Levin, D.Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services panel, shrugged off the threat, saying Tuesday that a Panetta hearing was in the works.”

A story that’s been bubbling… The Miami Herald: “FBI raids West Palm Beach office of doctor tied to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez.” From the story: “FBI agents late Tuesday night raided the West Palm Beach business of an eye doctor suspected of providing free trips and even underage Dominican Republic prostitutes to U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J. — who has denied what he calls the ‘fallacious allegations.’ … The investigation is believed to be focusing on Melgen’s finances and the allegations about Menendez’s trips and contact with prostitutes. A spokesman for Menendez could not be reached for comment, nor could Melgen.”

More: “Despite those financial problems, Melgen and his family have contributed at least $357,000 to candidates and committees since 1998, according to Florida and federal campaign records. Of that, the Melgens have contributed about 9 percent to Menendez’s federal campaigns. Melgen also owns a private CL-600 Challenger plane through one of his West Palm Beach-based companies, and frequently flies between South Florida and Casa de Campo in the Dominican Republic, where he is from. Menendez has flown on the plane at least once, his office has said, when he was chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee from 2009 to 2011, when the Melgens contributed about $60,400 to the group. A spokeswoman had previously said that Menendez and Melgen are longtime friends and said the senator did nothing improper.”

The Herald concludes, pointing out that Harry Reid dismissed the story yesterday: “Always consider the source. All anyone here has to look at is the source where this comes from,” the Democratic majority leader said. But: “Tuesday night’s raid, however, shows that there is at least an investigation tied to Menendez’s longtime friend and ally.”

“U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is wading into the immigration thicket again, less than six years after a titanic battle over the same issue left the Seneca Republican badly bruised and on the losing side,” McClatchy reports. “Like then, Graham is a year away from a re-election campaign. But Graham says the prospect of a serious Senate primary challenge – from state Sen. Tom Davis, R-Beaufort, or a well-known Republican – doesn’t scare him, and he thinks the chances of achieving real immigration reforms are better this time. ‘I am confident – very confident – that if I help solve this problem in a way that we won’t have 20 million illegal immigrants 20 years from now, not only will I get re-elected, I can look back and say I was involved in something that was important,’ Graham said Tuesday.”