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Obama agenda: Seven days until sequester

Obama called House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell yesterday to talk sequester.

The Hill: “The calls appear aimed at demonstrating Obama is engaged in trying to avert the sequester.” Boehner’s spokesman Michael Steel said, "If he wants to avert the sequester, shouldn’t the President be focused on the House of Congress that HASN’T acted, and where his own political party holds the majority?"

The Hill notes in the same story, “Senate Democrats are expected to bring a bill to the floor next week that would replace part of the sequester with a minimum 30 percent tax on millionaires, a proposal Republicans have rejected.”

USA Today: “The White House announced that Obama would travel to Virginia next week to discuss what effects automatic budget cuts would have on the defense industry.”

Obama told Al Sharpton in a radio interview: "I don't know if they're going to move. And that's what we're going to have to try to keep pushing over the next seven or eight days."

Stu Rothenberg notes that Democrats, led by the president and the White House, tell a better economic story than Republicans.

Writing in National Journal, Ron Brownstein notes the effects of the looming sequester have a “generational imbalance.” The sequester, he says, "directs its across-the-board cuts almost entirely at domestic and defense discretionary spending. That spending includes not only the government’s day-to-day operations (from national parks to aircraft carriers), but also most of its key investments in the productivity of future generations, including education, scientific research, and infrastructure. By contrast, the sequester completely exempts Social Security and Medicaid, and only slightly nicks Medicare with limited reductions in payments to doctors and hospitals."

NPR quotes GOP strategist Ed Rogers as seeing a lot of politics in the Benghazi questions: "I missed the meeting among Republicans where it was decided this would become an angry cause célèbre that should be pursued at all costs and with no holds barred.” More: “Juan Zarate, who was a counterterrorism adviser to President George W. Bush, says people could be asking meaty questions about the nature of the evolving terrorist threat, but they're not. ‘I think it's been substance that's lost amidst the debate about talking points and the way that the administration portrayed the incidents in the early days after the attacks,’ Zarate says.

And: Former Amb. Thomas Pickering who headed up the independent State Department review said, “I think this is quite unusual. This is the first time that this kind of a review has been so politicized."

Reuters: “President Barack Obama intends to nominate air quality expert Gina McCarthy to lead the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and nuclear physicist Ernest Moniz to head the Department of Energy as early as this week, according to a source familiar with the process. McCarthy would likely become the face of Obama's latest push to fight climate change. Currently the assistant administrator for the EPA Office of Air and Radiation, she would replace Lisa Jackson, who stepped down as EPA chief this month. Moniz, a former undersecretary of energy during the Clinton administration, is director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Energy Initiative, a research group that gets funding from industry heavyweights including BP, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco for academic work on projects aimed at reducing greenhouse gases.”

National Journal has four things to know about McCarthy, including that she has some personality being a “tough talking and enthusiastic Bostonian.” She also worked for Mitt Romney. But her confirmation won’t be easy, considering she’s likely going to have to enact many of the climate-change fighting policies Obama wants to implement and go around Congress to do so.

The next big confirmation fight… McCarthy spoke at Georgetown Thursday and noted that she’s ready to take on climate change. “As President Obama said, climate change is a priority — and we are going to take action,” she said. Here’s something Republicans will likely jump all over. She said that the effort to stem climate change “hasn’t hurt the economy,” adding, “there are tremendous opportunities to address climate change that build the economy, that grow jobs.” Cue coal country members of Congress…

Some on the left don’t like Moniz because of his support for natural gas, The Hill writes. The controversial practice known as “fracking” is how companies extract natural gas.

“North Korea's recent nuclear test will be front and center when President Obama meets with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, White House officials said,” The Hill writes.

USA Today: “Vice President Biden warned Congress on Thursday that there is a ‘moral price to be paid for inaction’ on revamping the nation's gun laws.”