Shot by Ali Weinberg; Edited by Domenico Montanaro
Shot by Ali Weinberg; Edited by Domenico Montanaro
From NBC's Luke Russert
On Capitol Hill today, House Budget Committee staffers briefed reporters about Chairman Paul Ryan's plans for the nation's budget for the rest of fiscal year 2011.
The current continuing resolution -- the bill that funds the government -- runs out on March 4, 2011. That leaves seven more months for fiscal year 2011, which ends on Sept. 30, 2011.
In their "Pledge to America" unveiled during the 2010 midterms, Republicans promised that in their first year, they would cut $100 billion from the nation's budget.
With common-sense exceptions for seniors, veterans, and our troops, we will roll back government spending to prestimulus, pre-bailout levels, saving us at least $100 billion in the first year alone and putting us on a path to begin paying down the debt, balancing the budget, and ending the spending spree in Washington that threatens our children’s future.
Due to the fact that the current continuing resolution, that was written by Democrats, runs out on March 4, they plan on pro-rating that $100 billion dollar number to $58 billion in non-security savings from the money President Obama asked for in the 2011 fiscal year budget. (In other words, the $58 billion in savings applies equals 7/12 of the fiscal year that they say the GOP is in charge of, and it doesn't include money for security/military needs.)
However, when taking a closer look at the budget numbers, the actual savings found in the GOP plan equals $32 billion.
The Obama administration did not get its desired budget in the current continuing resolution that is funding the government through fiscal year 2011.
If the current continuing resolution is extended, the amount of money used to fund the government for fiscal year 2011 is $1.087 trillion. The House GOP proposed budget is for $1.055 trillion dollars. $1.087 minus $1.055 equals $32 billion.
Ryan has responded that the House GOP will find $74 billion in discretionary savings "relative to President Obama's budget request." But the problem with that is that Obama's request is not the actual budget.
Many conservative House Republicans have asked that the $100 billion dollars in savings promised in the "Pledge to America" happen in fiscal year 2011. The GOP Leadership essentially conceded today that that is unlikely to occur, given the fact that the GOP had no control over the budget for the first five months of fiscal year 2011.
GOP leadership aides are quick to point out that that budget will go to the floor under an open rule, in which members may have a chance to add amendments that would cut more.
The fact that the savings only amount to $32 billion -- and not $100 billion -- is going to surely upset many conservative Tea Party members.
The Republican Study Committee, the ideological conservative faction of the House GOP conference, has been adamant that there be $100 billion dollars in cuts for fiscal year 2011.
What happens now?
The fight over the continuing resolution will happen in the House next week. It is unlikely that the GOP will be able to enact the $32 billion dollars in savings by March 4, as any budget bill must pass the Democratic-controlled Senate.
There will most likely be more temporary continuing resolutions to keep the government funded and operating. Then the House GOP will have to strike some sort of compromise with the Democratic Senate in order to pass through the savings they desire.
Where do the $32 billion in cuts come from?
The $32 billion in cuts will come from non-defense spending. House Republicans are quick to tell you that in the two years of the Obama administration, non-security spending has gone up 24%. When pressed for where exactly the cuts would be made, Republican Budget Committee staffers punted and said those decisions would be made by the House Appropriations Committee, the committee that ultimately allocates where the nation's treasure is spent.
When asked where might the Appropriations Committee look to find savings, House Republican Budget Committee staffers were quick to say that under the Obama administration, the Environmental Protection Agency has seen its budget triple, and Republicans would "examine" that agency.
The week of February 14, it is expected that Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) will unveil the House GOP budget for the entire fiscal year 2012. This will happen directly after President Obama unveils his budget for fiscal year 2012. Ryan's budget is expected to contain even more billions in cuts, specifically cuts that will appease the GOP base.
****UPDATE**** GOP aides tell NBC News that comparing Republicans’ campaign pledge of $100 billion dollars to the actual cuts of $32 billion dollars is like comparing “apples to oranges.”
Aides say that on Sept. 30, 2010, House Republicans pledged that, if they gained the majority, they would cut $100 billion from President Obama’s requested fiscal year 2011 budget. Today, the GOP announced $74 billion in savings from Obama’s requested 2011 fiscal year budget. The aides say that House Republicans are not breaking their pledge because they’re pro-rating the savings as being relative to the seven out of 12 fiscal months that they are in control of the House.
Thus, in the aides’ opinion, the House GOP pledged to cut $100 billion dollars and are honoring that in their proposal, given how long they have been in power. The aides continue that the House GOP never promised to cut $100 billion from the current federal spending levels for fiscal year 2011, which is being funded by a continuing resolution first enacted by Democrats. They claim their $32 billion in cuts will “spend out” the current fiscal year 2011 at fiscal year 2008 levels. Part of the “Pledge to America” was to return government non-security spending to fiscal year 2008 levels.
GOP leadership aides also tell NBC News that the Republican Study Committee has continuously called for $100 billion in cuts from President Obama’s request fiscal year 2011 budget, not the actual federal spending levels that the government is currently operating under at the present time.
According to House Budget Committee aides, if the GOP were to revert back to 2008 fiscal year levels under the current Federal spending level structure, $59 billion in cuts would be needed. That $59 billion would take into account all 12 months of fiscal year 2011. The House GOP Budget Committee currently does not see that as feasible and proposed today to simply spend out the rest of fiscal year 2011 at fiscal year 2008 levels.
GOP aides expect some pushback from more conservative members of the GOP Conference in regards to the $32 billion in savings, as they fall $17 billion short of what ideologically conservative faction of the conference, the Republican Study Committee is calling for -- $59 billion.
*** UPDATE 2 *** House Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen's response: “Federal spending is currently $46 billion less than what President Obama requested for this year. Now House Republicans want to cut non-security spending by 9% more, with all of the cuts targeted over the final seven months of the fiscal year. The President’s bipartisan Fiscal Commission cautioned against such immediate spending cuts, and economists like Mark Zandi have made the point that deep and immediate spending cuts proposed by Republicans could raise the unemployment rate back into double digits."
From NBC's Ken Strickland
The Department of Defense and the FBI had enough information about the suspect in the 2009 Fort Hood massacre to have discharged him from the military before he killed 13 DOD employees and wounded 32 others, according to a new bipartisan Senate report.
The report on the Texas army base shooting, authored by Senate Homeland Security Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman and top Republican Susan Collins, says that both agencies were aware of suspected gunman Army Major Nidal Malik Hasan's radicalization to violent Islamist extremism "but failed both to understand and to act on it."
"Although both the public and the private signs of Hasan's radicalization to violent Islamist extremism while on active duty were known to government officials, a string of failures prevented these officials from intervening against him prior to the attack," it says in its executive summary.
The senators say their investigation found "specific and systemic failures" in the government's handling of the case and cited additional concerns about possible broader systemic issues. "The FBI and DoD together failed to recognize and to link the information that they possessed about Hasan" they write.
Hasan's move toward violent Islamist extremism "was on full display to his superiors and colleagues during his military medical training,” according to the report’s findings. One instructor referred to Hasan as "a ticking time bomb."
"Not only was no action taken to discipline or discharge him, but also his Officer Evaluation Reports sanitized his obsession with violent Islamist extremism into praiseworthy research on counterterrorism."
In a stinging charge against the Defense Department's handling of the matter, the report added, "DOD possessed compelling evidence that Hasan embraced views so extreme that it should have disciplined him or discharged him from the military, but DoD failed to take action against him."
While the inquiry credited one FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force unit for initially flagging Hasan because he was communicating with a suspected terrorist, it criticized a second unit's follow-through. According to the report, the second JTTF unit "failed to identify the totality of Hasan's communications" and didn't inform Army security about them.
"Instead, the JTTF inquiry relied on Hasan's erroneous Officer Evaluation Reports and ultimately dismissed his communications as legitimate research," the senators write.
The report suggests that because the two FBI units had different views of the severity of other unit's findings, the matter was eventually dropped "rather than cause a bureaucratic confrontation."
"The JTTFs never raised the dispute to FBI headquarters for resolution, and entities in FBI headquarters responsible for coordination among field offices never acted. As a result, the FBI's inquiry into Hasan ended prematurely,” it reads.
*** UPDATE *** The FBI responded to the report in a written statement, which reads in part: "The FBI recognizes the value of congressional oversight and agrees with much in the report and many of its recommendations. During the internal FBI review undertaken immediately after the attack at Fort Hood, we identified several of the areas of concern outlined in the report, and, as noted in the report, have implemented changes to our systems and processes to address them. We will review each of the report's recommendations and adopt them, as appropriate."
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli in a January 2011 photo in Richmond, Va.
From NBC's Pete Williams
The Virginia official most responsible for his state's challenge to the health-care law says he will ask the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the legal dispute over the law quickly, bypassing the federal appeals courts.
Federal law does allow for appealing a trial judge's ruling directly, without waiting for an intermediate appeals court to review the case. It is, however, a legal gambit disfavored by the Supreme Court and rarely granted.
Even so, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) says this is the sort of exception the rules were intended to accommodate.
"Given the uncertainty caused by the divergent rulings of the various courts on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, we feel that it is necessary to seek resolution of this issue as quickly as possible," he said.
"Regardless of whether you believe the law is constitutional or not, we should all agree that a prompt resolution of this issue is in everyone's best interest," Cuccinelli said.
The Justice Department opposes the move, partly on the grounds that if any case should be used to fast-track a decision, this one isn't it, given that the ruling the state seeks to appeal is partly based on fact unique to Virginia -- a state law declaring that residents cannot be required to buy insurance.
"This case is one of two that are already scheduled for argument in the 4th Circuit this May, so going through the usual process would make little difference in timing as to when the Supreme Court could hear it, while allowing the appellate court to thoroughly evaluate the issues," said a Justice Department spokeswoman, Tracy Schmaler.
"The individual responsibility provision does not go into effect until 2014, so there is more than sufficient time for this case to proceed first in the court of appeals," she said.
Former Chief Justice William Rehnquist described the process of leap-frogging over the appeals court as "an extremely rare occurrence." It has been granted in cases of national emergency, such as the Truman administration crisis over nationalizing steel mills and the showdown over Watergate tapes during the Nixon administration.
But the Supreme Court has declined to hear other cases that were deemed to be of national importance, denying immediate review, for example, in the 1998 case that sought to test whether President Clinton could be sued while in office.
Cuccinelli undeniably has a point, because some states are confused about the effect of the two federal court rulings declaring the law unconstitutional. But the split among the lower courts is precisely the sort of condition that the Supreme Court prefers to let the appeals courts sort out before the justices wade in.
Astronaut Mark Kelly, husband of wounded Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, gets a hug from first lady Michelle Obama at the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, Thursday.
From NBC's Ali Weinberg
Most of the remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast at the Washington Hilton this morning were apolitical, but President Obama and Capt. Mark Kelly, the husband of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, both made subtle calls for humility and self-reflection, in political and personal behavior, in the wake of the Tuscon shooting tragedy.
"Over the past two years," Obama said during his remarks, "the proper role of government has obviously been the subject of enormous controversy. The debates have ben fierce."
"One side's version of passion and community may be interpreted by the other side as an oppressive, irresponsible expansion of the state, or an assault on personal freedom," he continued.
He said that he offered a "prayer for humility" for members of Congress and for all in the audience.
Mark Kelly quoted his brother Scott, who, like him, is an astronaut, when speaking about his hopes for the nation.
"What he said bears repeating," Kelly said. "Our country faces a lot of challenges, and the way they face these challenges is through teamwork. I'd like to see more teamwork, not only in our governmetn but the way this country faces its challenges. If anything can come from this, it's that we learn to work together."
"Scott concluded by saying, we are better than this. We must do better. Scott was right. I know we must do better," Capt. Kelly said.
President Obama also elicited some laughter from the audience when he spoke of the kinds of prayers he says in the morning - some of which have to do with his daughters.
"Sometimes, my prayers are general," Obama started. "Sometimes, they're specific. Lord, give me patience as I watch Malia go to her first dance, where there will be boys," he said.
"Lord, have that skirt get longer as she travels to that dance," he said, chuckling.
Obama today visits Penn State, bringing into focus the electoral importance of the Big 10 states… The president’s speech there is at noon ET… Our question regarding Egypt: What happens there tomorrow?... Romney says his campaign would “take me to Iowa” if he runs, but does that mean a full-fledged Iowa effort?... Thune tells Politico he loves his job in the Senate, which suggests he very well might not run… When Joe Manchin and Olympia Snowe can’t agree on health care, then you know it has become a partisan issue… And Rummy returns.
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Big 10 focus: In 2008, Barack Obama pulled off this feat: He won EVERY state associated with the Big 10 -- Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. (And he even picked up one electoral vote in the state of the conference's newest member, Nebraska.) But last year, Democrats lost EVERY statewide contest in those same states except two, the gubernatorial races in Illinois and Minnesota (and both were thisclose). Talk about swing states and a swing region. That's why, to no one's surprise, President Obama visited Wisconsin the day after his State of the Union. And it's why he heads today to State College, PA -- the home of Big 10 power Penn State. Also note that like last week’s trip to Wisconsin, Obama’s stop in Pennsylvania is in a swing part of the state. In fact, Pat Toomey won this country (Centre) with 51% of the vote last year. In ’08, Obama got 55%. Last year, the president would visit safe Democratic areas inside swing states. This year, so far, he’s visiting actual swing parts of swing states.
*** Still trying to win the future: In Pennsylvania, Obama will repeat his innovation and win-the-future message -- which certainly will be overshadowed by the continued violence and unrest in Egypt. At the Penn State campus, the White House says, the president will tour labs focused on energy-efficient building solutions. Then, at noon ET, Obama will deliver remarks on innovation and clean energy. At publication time, Obama was about to speak at the National Prayer Breakfast. Also at publication time, the RNC was holding a conference call pre-butting Obama’s visit to the Keystone State.
*** What happens tomorrow in Egypt? As for the situation in Egypt, today isn’t as bad as yesterday but that doesn't mean it's good. Per NBC’s Charlene Gubash in Cairo, Egypt’s prime minister -- though not Mubarak himself -- apologized for yesterday’s attacks on protestors and said the government will investigate who is behind it. The big question, though, is how bad is tomorrow? As for the White House, they continue to publicly emphasize the need for the Egyptian government to start the transition now, and they are putting MORE definition about what that means and what they say it means -- meeting PUBLICLY with opposition leaders. The only way the democracy demonstrators will start to believe is if they actually see some progress on that front. The focus of the U.S. diplomacy continues to be the relationship with the Egyptian army. And that's been the most successful aspect of their interventions to date. Obama also is ratcheting up diplomatic outreach to other Middle Eastern leaders, including to the head of Yemen, who announced this week he would NOT seek re-election and that he'd begin SOME reforms.
*** Hawkeye State of Mind? Speaking of Big 10 country, Mitt Romney told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt that his campaign would “take me to Iowa,” if he decides to run for president in 2012. “If I decide to run, I’ll be planning on running nationwide, and certainly the early states will be places where we concentrate most of our attention,” Romney said, per the Des Moines Register. “If I get in this, I’m not going to be doing so much of a political calculus as I am a calculus of what message needs to be heard by the American people and how I can deliver it best,” he added. “And that surely will take me to Iowa as well as the other early states.” One of the big questions about Romney’s candidacy revolves around whether he’ll truly compete in Iowa, as he did in ’08, or if he’ll focus instead on New Hampshire and Nevada. Of course, saying his campaign would “take me to Iowa” isn’t the same thing as vowing to truly compete there. Still, it's an acknowledgement that you CANNOT be a national front-runner and skip states. Iowa is a swing state, period.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speaks after leaving a meeting of Senate Republicans in Washington in this September 2008 photo.
*** No fire in the belly? Is Sen. John Thune leaning against a 2012 run? That is what he seemed to suggest in an interview with Politico. “It’s a different scenario maybe than some of the other candidates who don’t have a job,” he said. “This is a great place. This is a great job. We all complain about it. It’s frustrating at times ... but it is a place where ultimately you can be engaged in the big debates about the issues.” More from Thune: “I like where I am. I like what I do. These committee assignments [on Finance and Budget] are obviously going to give me a full portfolio for the foreseeable future… I’m in a place where I think I can make a difference. Those are all issues you weigh.” Politico adds that Thune said he’d make a final decision by the end of the month and after speaking at next week’s CPAC. Folks, if Thune is debating between staying in the Senate and running for president, that probably means the fire in the belly isn’t there for a White House bid.
*** Into the great wide open… : If Thune decides not to run, it means the eventual GOP field could be WIDE OPEN. This could benefit someone like Tim Pawlenty -- or Haley Barbour or Rick Santorum -- because there will be plenty of room for someone to be the anti-Romney. And it also explains why Jon Huntsman is eyeing a bid. The field is shrinking? Certainly looks that way right now. If Mitch Daniels does NOT run, does that leave Pawlenty as the lone midwesterner?
*** No common ground: Perhaps what was most surprising about yesterday’s health-repeal vote in the Senate wasn’t that all Democrats opposed the move (even West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin voted against it, saying that it didn’t make sense to throw out the good parts of the bill). Rather, the surprising part was that all GOP senators -- even Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins -- voted for repeal. You’d normally expect that if Ben Nelson, Kent Conrad, and Manchin vote for something, then Snowe, Collins, and Scott Brown probably would support it as well. This all shows that there is no common ground on this law, which is ironic given that much of it is based on past GOP ideas and measures.
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld thumbs through a book at his office in Washington during an interview in January.
*** Rummy returns: Here’s the New York Times on Donald Rumsfeld’s new book. “Just 15 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush invited his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to meet with him alone in the Oval Office. According to Mr. Rumsfeld’s new memoir, the president leaned back in his leather chair and ordered a review and revision of war plans — but not for Afghanistan, where the Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington had been planned and where American retaliation was imminent.” But NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski says that according to notes taken in the "tank" at the Pentagon only FOUR HOURS after American Flight 77 slammed into the building, it was Rumsfeld himself who raised the possibility of attacking Iraq. At 1:50pm, in discussing a "whole range of military operations" and the "annihilation of terrorism" Rumsfeld says: “My interest is to hit Saddam Hussein at the same time, not to look only at UBL (Osama bin Laden).” It's either a lapse of memory, Mik says, or a bit of revisionist history.
Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 19 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 278 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 368 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up
The New York Times: "After days of delicate public and private diplomacy, the United States openly broke with its most stalwart ally in the Arab world on Wednesday, as the Obama administration strongly condemned violence by allies of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt against protesters and called on him to speed up his exit from power... The open rupture between the United States and Egypt illustrates how swift and dramatic changes in Cairo are altering the calculus of the entire region and the administration’s foreign policy agenda."
“Faced with a bloody rejection of its call for a rapid, orderly transition of power in Egypt, the Obama administration finds itself with diminished leverage over President Hosni Mubarak, and has stepped up its contacts with the Egyptian military to try to exert influence over events rocking a key ally,” the Los Angeles Times writes.
The Boston Globe's editorial page: "Especially after yesterday’s attacks by pro-regime forces against protesters, Washington can no longer ignore the contradiction between its longstanding partnership with Mubarak and Obama’s pledge to 'stand up for democracy and the universal rights that all human beings deserve, in Egypt and around the world.’ To show he means what he says, Obama should appoint a special envoy — or perhaps a few — to open up channels of communication with the disparate groups and factions in the Egyptian opposition."
"United States taxpayers have funneled more than $60 billion of aid into Egypt since President Hosni Mubarak came to power in 1981, but more than half of the money has been spent supplying weapons to the country’s military, an arrangement that critics say has benefited American military contractors more than ordinary Egyptians," the Boston Globe reports.
"President Obama will outline his latest broad energy policy goal Thursday amid uncertainty in Congress about energy legislation and mounting challenges by Republicans to the administration’s climate change agenda," The Hill writes. "In remarks at Penn State University on Thursday, Obama will detail a plan to make commercial buildings more energy efficient. The central goal of the proposal will be reducing by 2020 the overall energy intensity of commercial buildings by 20 percent."
The AP: "The Gulf of Mexico should largely recover from BP’s oil spill by the end of next year, and all final settlement offers to victims who lost revenue from the disaster will be based on that assessment, the administrator of the $20 billion compensation fund said Wednesday.”
"A united Democratic front yesterday beat back a Republican effort in the Senate to repeal last year’s sweeping health care overhaul law, but GOP leaders vowed to chisel away at President Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment," the Boston Globe writes. "By a party-line vote of 51 to 47, a Republican amendment to repeal the Affordable Care Act fell 13 votes short of the 60 needed to survive a procedural hurdle."
"Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) on Wednesday rejected the CBO's cost estimate of healthcare repeal as 'garbage in, garbage out,'" The Hill writes. (OK, then. Remember that when the GOP is in charge and uses the CBO to back up their legislation. Just saying.)
"House Democrats are returning to yet another tactic they employed the last time they were in the minority: holding mock hearings to draw attention to their positions," Roll Call reports. "Party leaders on Wednesday held the second in what will be a series of unofficial, Democrat-only hearings that they hope will bring attention to how they would govern if they were back in control and paint a contrast with Republicans. Wednesday’s session — organized through the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee — focused on the urgency of creating jobs."
Reince Priebus, the new RNC chairman, “came to Tampa Wednesday with two messages,” The St. Petersburg Times writes. “To the locals, he said planning for the 2012 GOP convention in Tampa is on track. To the Legislature, he said, please don’t schedule another early presidential primary in Florida.”
BACHMANN: “Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, will travel to the early primary state of South Carolina later this month as she mulls a possible White House bid in 2012,” CNN reports. “The outspoken conservative and Tea Party favorite will address a South Carolina Federation of Republican Women lunch in Columbia on Feb. 19.”
"House Republican leaders have a simple strategy for dealing with Rep. Michele Bachmann: Ignore her," Roll Call reports. “'We treat her like all Members,' a GOP leadership aide said. Paying the tea party firebrand any special attention would only heighten her profile, empower her and potentially create schisms within the new House majority, Republican aides said."
HUCKABEE: Is this really the word he wants to use here? “Former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee, traveling in Israel, said Wednesday that bans on Israeli settlements in the West Bank is ‘apartheid,’” The State Column writes.
ROMNEY: “Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said Wednesday he would campaign for the Iowa caucuses, should he seek the 2012 Republican presidential nomination,” The Des Moines Register writes. “The comment, made during an appearance on a nationally syndicated radio program, helped answer a question that has circulated in the national political press about whether Romney would wage an Iowa campaign in a second bid for the GOP nomination.”
“Mitt Romney claims he isn't sure if he'll run for President in 2012, but he knows someone else that would do a "great" job: Sarah Palin, the New York Daily News writes. “During an interview on Tuesday night with Piers Morgan on CNN, the former GOP Massachusetts governor said Palin would bring a lot to the political table. “"I believe she is an extraordinarily powerful and effective voice in our party, that she has generated a great deal of support and attention, that she'd be great in a primary process," he said.
“In a poll conducted for the Exoro Group Center for Public Policy & Administration at the University of Utah, Republicans in the state said they would prefer the former Massachusetts governor over their own former governor [Jon Huntsman] by a staggering margin, 65 to 16 percent,” the Washington Post finds.
SANTORUM: The former senator “spoke to about 50 people at a Myrtle Beach Tea Party event and mentioned several times the responsibility that South Carolina voters have in presidential races,” the Sun News reports. “’You are the human resource department when it comes to who runs for president,’ he told those who attended.”
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D. at a Senate Budget Committee hearing in January 2011.
THUNE: “South Dakota Sen. John Thune just landed two plum posts in the Senate — seats on the influential Finance and Budget committees — that crystallize the decision he now faces: Stay in the Senate to climb the leadership ladder, or jump into the 2012 presidential contest, “Politico writes. “The betting among Republicans is that Thune remains in the Senate, and the senator himself acknowledges he might stay put.”
On FOX last night, Thune said that yesterday’s unsuccessful health-repeal effort was progress, per NBC’s Catherine Chomiak. “We had 40 votes in December, eleven months ago, against this health care bill, and today we got 47. So, we’re moving in the right direction and I think there will be additional efforts. Obviously, this was a big vote.”
Former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld is interviewed at his office in Washington in January.
News organizations got their hands on Donald Rumsfeld’s new book.
The New York Times: “Just 15 days after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, President George W. Bush invited his defense secretary, Donald H. Rumsfeld, to meet with him alone in the Oval Office. According to Mr. Rumsfeld’s new memoir, the president leaned back in his leather chair and ordered a review and revision of war plans — but not for Afghanistan, where the Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington had been planned and where American retaliation was imminent.”
The Washington Post: "Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, that master of the tart zinger, now concedes he went too far with some. The man who more than any other in the Bush administration personified bravado and self-assuredness has come to regret saying 'Stuff happens' about the early looting in postwar Iraq. He admits his quip about 'old Europe' - meaning Germany and France - not supporting the use of force in Iraq was hardly deft diplomacy. As for declaring, as he did in the first days after the invasion of Iraq, 'We know where they are,' referring to suspected stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction - well, Rumsfeld would like to take that one back, too."
"But Rumsfeld still can't resist - in a memoir due out next week - taking a few pops at former secretaries of state Colin L. Powell and Condoleezza Rice as well as at some lawmakers and journalists. He goes so far as to depict former president George W. Bush as presiding over a national security process that was marked by incoherent decision-making and policy drift, most damagingly on the war in Iraq."
Senate Democrats remained united on Wednesday in killing a Republican effort to repeal the health care bill signed into law last March.
As expected, no Democrats voted against a procedural motion that effectively defeated a GOP amendment -- sponsored by Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and tacked on to an unrelated aviation bill -- to repeal the health legislation.
All Republicans voted together in favor of the McConnell-sponsored amendment. The vote was 47-51.
The House passed the repeal measure last month.
But the defeat of the equivalent legislation in the Senate means that the ultimate fate of the health care bill will likely not be settled until the Supreme Court hears an expected constitutional challenge to the law -- particularly its mandate that most Americans buy insurance.
The high court would likely hear the case in its next term, which begins in October of 2011, although some would like to see the matter addressed sooner. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., urged the court today to expedite the ruling.
"The vote to repeal health care is largely symbolic, because the Supreme Court is going to have to be the one to decide this matter,” Nelson said in a statement. “We ought to do the right thing and ask the High Court to rule quickly so we don’t keep arguing over this for the next several years.”
NBC's Ken Strickland contributed.
From NBC's Ken Strickland
In a bipartisan vote of 81-17, the Senate just voted to stripe the health care law of a controversial tax measure, the so-called 1099 provision.
It's a reporting requirement tucked into the law that mandates businesses submit IRS tax form 1099 for every vendor it pays more than $600.
It was designed to prevent vendors from underreporting income to the IRS while simultaneously offsetting the cost of the health care law. Instead, opponents say, it will create a paperwork nightmare for small businesses and the IRS.
The bill now moves to the House.
From NBC's Shawna Thomas
Freshman Rep. Allen West (R-FL), no stranger to controversy, is now receiving criticism from some religious leaders who want West to apologize for comments he made about a fellow member of Congress.
Today, four interfaith leaders sent a letter to West asking him to clarify statements he made about Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) on a local Florida show called, "The Shalom Show." During the interview, West is asked how he manages working with people in Congress that he disagrees with.
Interviewer: "Since you're with a new crowd of people you haven't really met before and will be very closely associating with in the future, including Keith Ellison who supports Islam. How will you manage that if I may ask? Because it's not really easy to be that polite often with individuals one totally disagrees with, which I believe may be the case."
Rep. West: "I think it's most important that I stand upon the principles that people elected me to go to Washington DC and represent them on Capitol Hill. So that when you run into someone that is counter or someone that really does represent the antithesis of the principles upon which this country was established. You've got to be able to defeat them intellectually in debate and discourse and you have to just be able to challenge each and every one of the assertions very wisely and very forthright."
Ellison is one of only two Muslim members of Congress and was targeted by Tea Party Nation, which sent an e-mail to members that said, in part, “Ellison is one of the most radical members of congress. He has a ZERO rating from the American Conservative Union. He is the only Muslim member of congress.”
One signatory, Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, said he initially found the comments "alarming." "We wanted to raise the issue and encourage him to clarify what he intended to say," said Saperstein.
West responded with a letter of his own today that offered some clarification:
"Let it be clear. It is the extremist, radical element that has hijacked Islam that presents a dangerous threat to both our country and our allies throughout the world. This radical jihadist movement has no place in the United States of America or anywhere on earth...The problem is, these fanatics are often supported by certain groups and organizations that masquerade as more peaceful moderates. Organizations such as CAIR have long histories of supporting violent anti-American and anti-Israel terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah and the Muslim Brotherhood. These organizations operate within our borders, and as an elected official, I have an obligation to speak the truth and educate my constituency on the threat they pose...My comments in regards to my colleague Representative Keith Ellison, are not about his Islamic faith, but about his continued support of CAIR."
But the interfaith letter says West's remarks about Islam in the past have not been as carefully worded:
"Regrettably, this is just the latest example of your tendency to offer intemperate comments about Islam. At a town hall meeting during your campaign, you characterized Islam as America's enemy and asserted, "Islam is a totalitarian, theocratic political ideology; it is not a religion." Such untrue and inflammatory remarks intensify an unsettling trend of anti-Muslim rhetoric and fear in our country."
And yesterday, CNN reported that at a town hall, West responded to a question from the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Miami, Nezar Hamze, who challenged West on his comments about Islam:
Me and my children choose to follow the faith of Islam. You consistently insult it. How can we expect you to defend our right and practice Islam as far as the Constitution is concerned?" Hamze asked.
"I will always defend your right to practice a free religion under the First Amendment," West said. "But what you must understand, if I am speaking the truth, I am not going to stop speaking the truth. The truth is not subjective," he continued to loud applause.
At the end of the letter, West wrote, "I certainly will take your concerns to heart, and hope that we can work together to continue to educate the American public on the importance of both understanding the threats we face, and exercising religious tolerance."
As of now the interfaith leaders are planning no response to West.
From NBC's Kelly O'Donnell, Ken Strickland, and Carrie Dann
Republicans will take a final stab this afternoon at repealing the health care law in the halls of Congress, but it's expected that the vote will go the same way that most of the debate over the legislation has gone: along party lines.
The Senate vote, expected between 5-6 pm ET Wednesday, will technically be on a "point of order" that would essentially nix the GOP effort to repeal the law.
Several Democrats who are up for re-election in 2012 are under pressure from outside conservative groups to side with Republicans and support the repeal effort.
The Tea Party Express has urged its supporters to flood the offices of Sens. Jim Webb of Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Jon Tester of Montana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, and Claire McCaskill of Missouri with calls lobbying for repeal.
FreedomWorks, an organization chaired by former Majority Leader Dick Armey, has targeted those five lawmakers as well as Bill Nelson of Florida, Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, and Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico.
But Democratic leaders are optimistic that none of their party members will defect.
Sens. Manchin and Ben Nelson - the Senate Democrats who have been the most outspoken about potential problems with the legislation - have both said publicly that they will not side with Republicans on the vote. And a spokeswoman for Tester tells NBC News that the Montana lawmaker will not vote for repeal.
It's also likely that the Senate will pass a bill this afternoon that strikes one almost universally unpopular provision from the health care law: the "1099" language that requires small businesses to submit IRS tax forms for every vendor whom they pay more than $600.
There are several competing versions of the measure that would roll back the 1099 language, sponsored by lawmakers on both sides of the aisle. Democratic aides say that the most likely of these to pass is one introduced by Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow. She's also up for re-election next year.
We're going to shoot another edition of Inside the Boiler Room. Got a question? Post it below!
From NBC's Kevin Hurd
While NBC News correspondents have been reporting the latest from Egypt on television, they have also been feeding quick 'tweets' to Twitter. Chief Foreign Correspondent Richard Engel arrived in Cairo on Jan. 27. Since then, he has been tweeting about what is happening around him there.
NBC's Lester Holt and Ron Allen are also in Egypt. Here is a aggregate timeline of their tweets since the 27th.
Richard Engel: Just arrived in cairo.. Big story
Richard Engel: Have covered egypt for years (lived here for four) haven't seen activists planning protests so openly.. Defiantly
Richard Engel: Demonstrators to start at at least 7 mosques in cairo, 3 churches. Then march to tahrir
Richard Engel: Us officials expect 'significant violence' in egypt tomorrow
Richard Engel: Govt talks of 100 arrests in last few days. Protestors say number more like 800. both hard to verify.
Richard Engel: several people asked me, 'why mubarak isn't talking. What is he waiting for?'
Richard Engel: have some internet access, but limited. lots of security on streets. but quiet so far
Richard Engel: lots of plain clothes security in tahrir
Richard Engel: entry into protests of muslim brotherhood could be a major change..fears here the group could take over the movement
Richard Engel: running battles with the riot police, demonstrators breaking street stones to throw at police
Richard Engel: Demonstrators appear leaderless. Protestors say they're out in the streets because of corruption and lack of jobs.
Richard Engel: Thousands in the centre of Cairo. Some collapsing from thick teargas. One man fell next to me.
Richard Engel: Demonstrations growing more Islamic. More shouts of Islamic slogans. Reports of Muslim Brotherhood now involved
Richard Engel: We are using alternative means to report information. Not a good idea to disclose technical details
Richard Engel: Army APCs in downtown Cairo taking no action against demonstrators
Richard Engel: Egyptian TV reports nation-wide curfew. Curfew NOT being obeyed in Cairo.
Richard Engel: Demonstrators angry that labels on teargas canisters say "made in USA"
Richard Engel: Protestors want Egyptian army to join with them
Richard Engel: Airport sources say Egyptian private jets leaving the country only 7 left
Richard Engel: Fears of looting...loss of basic law and order in cairo
Richard Engel: gov't worried about capital flight from main banks
Richard Engel: universities in cairo closed
Richard Engel: a mall, court, many police stations and a fast food restaurant attacked in cairo
Richard Engel: looking in many suburbs.. shopping malls, housing complexes.. supermarkets
Richard Engel: Many egyptians afraid.. many suspect the government is allowing looting to prove egypt needs a police state
Richard Engel: a third of our own local staff had houses attacked by looters
Ron Allen: Just about to takeoff from Dubai for Cairo, the plane seats 400,pretty empty, maybe 60 passengers, lightest load ever says flight attendant
Richard Engel: On maddow soon from cairo..
Ron Allen: In Cairo's Tahrir Sq.: organizers vowing to stage another 'million person' march Friday; thousands remain here
Ron Allen: Protestors continue to wave Egyptian flags, chanting "leave, leave, leave!"
Ron Allen: Hundreds camped out here in center of sq. vowing to stay until Mubarak resigns
Lester Holt: In -Tahrir Square-Cairo short while ago. Volunteers form human chain to steer fellow protesters away from tanks. Peaceful and jubilant.
Ron Allen: Just got away from very aggressive pro Mubarak protests, angry about media not telling their side of story...very intense!!
Ron Allen: Demonstrators back out in alexandria, scene of clashes between pro and anti mubarak crowds
Lester Holt: We've got internet again in Cairo. My Blackberry is happy
Lester Holt: Pro-Mubarak groups are becoming more vocal. Also curfew hours shortened. We can stay on the streets now until 5p
Lester Holt: Driving into central Cairo now. Encountering agitated Mubarak supporters. Things getting more tense.
Richard Engel: journalists mobbed on the streets.. pro-mubarak supports angry with foreign press
Richard Engel:demonstrators say the "mobs" are paid, pro-mubarak supporters
Richard Engel: many protesters surrounded, trapped at south end of tahrir
Richard Engel: Heard several sustained bursts of gunfire .. Lots of molotov at north end of tahrir
Richard Engel: pro-mubarak demonstrators appear to be using a pincer tactic.. cutting off main entrances to tahrir..trapp protestors in
Richard Engel: protestors expect pro mubarak 'thugs' to keep circling..and then try to force demonstrators out of circle
Richard Engel: many egyptians telling me these 'pro-mubarak demonstrators' are same 'thugs' used in past to stuff ballot boxes...
Richard Engel: much of protests right in front of US embassy
Richard Engel: Protesters tell us they 'will die in tahrir'
Richard Engel: Protesters say they will regroup tomorrow even if mubarak supports tahrir by force
Richard Engel: Protesters say they are gathered on outskirts of tahrir, and will move back if tank roll in
Richard Engel: lots of cries of allah u akhbar from tahrir
Richard Engel: Ministry of Health update 403 injured, 1 dead.. Suspect its higher
Richard Engel: burts of gunfire in tahrir..More than earlier
Richard Engel: bursts of gunfire in tahrir.. More than before
Richard Engel: gunfire came from close to egyptian museum
Richard Engel: watching flaming bombs being dropped from buildings..
Richard Engel: State tv warns all protestors to clear Tahrir Square
Richard Engel (1:28pm EST): Al arabiyah reporting its correspondent ahmad abdallah is missing following a confrontation with pro mubarak supporters.
From NBC's Ali Weinberg
One strategy to get more female voters to the polls in 2012 than in 2010 -- and make sure they vote Democratic when they get there -- is to highlight Republican efforts to limit limit access and funding to abortion, the leaders of three progressive groups said today.
Democrats have a better chance of winning when they win 53% or more of the female vote but that hasn' t happened recently, said Anna Greenberg of the Democratic polling firm Greenberg Quinlan Rosner, who briefed reporters along with Planned Parenthood Action Fund president Cecile Richards, EMILY's List president Stephanie Schriock and Center for American Progress Action Fund chairman John Podesta.
For example, women voted 49%-48% Republican in the 2010 midterm elections, while 56% voted for Barack Obama in the 2008 presidential election. Democrats also underperformed in base demographics like unmarried women, 70% of whom voted for Obama in 2008 versus 57% who voted Democratic in 2010.
Schriock said that EMILY's list found women were not motivated by anger at their incumbent to switch their vote to Republican in 2010, but more because they didn't have enough reliable information on the positions of either candidate.
An effective way to fill that information gap ahead of the 2012 elections, the briefings' participants agreed, is to alert female voters to three bills being circulated in the House intended to limit access and funding to abortion services and providers, from Reps. Chris Smith (R-NJ), Mike Pence (R-IN) and Joe Pitts (R-PA).
Smith's bill would make permanent the Hyde amendment, which prohibits federal funding for abortions but has to be renewed by Congress annually. It would also narrow exemptions to the amendment in the event of rape, abuse or when the life of the woman is threatened, adding controversial language that would change "rape" to "forcible rape," which Podesta said "bizarrely distinguishes between good rapes and bad rapes."
Pence's bill would prohibit abortion providers from receiving federal funding. And Pitts' bill would reintroduce the proposals from the "Stupak amendment," meant to bar tax credits or subsidies for any private health insurance plans that include abortion coverage, even if that cost is paid for privately.
Two of these bills so far have polled poorly with female voters, according to a poll conducted by Democratic firm Hart Research. 74% of women opposed a provision in the Smith bill that would make women pay higher taxes on their private insurance plan if it included abortion coverage, and 71% opposed the Pence bill's proposal to cut off funding for abortion services.
"I think there's a real opportunity for Democrats to demonstrate to independent women, and women writ large, who's on their side," said Richards.
Schriock said EMILY's List will soon begin reaching out to female voters by sending literature, emails and airing commercials linking Republican candidates to the three House anti-abortion proposals, and explaining Democratic candidates' positions on the issue as well.
"We've got to provide true, clear messaging on what the Democrats are doing and now, even more importantly, the very, very conservative right wing agenda that the House is pushing forward," Schriock said.
*** UPDATE *** EMILY’s List Deputy Communications Director Jess McIntosh says that while the group will target Republican efforts to cut abortion funding and access, EMILY’s List outreach efforts will be broader in scope. As part of its plans to keep increasing the number of female Democratic voters, EMILY’s List will be targeting a number of Republican stances that it says will limit women’s health benefits and rights, therefore alienating female voters.
From NBC’s Andrea Mitchell
It was clear from Bill Daley -- the new White House chief of staff, at a roundtable with reporters this morning -- that the White House had no warning of today's events in Egypt. *** NOTE *** The roundtable was hosted by Bloomberg News.
Daley said the president's 30-minute conversation with Mubarak last night was "cordial not heated."
He said the history of the military in Egypt is "an enormous plus" for the transition. Given the history going back to Nasser, he said that there is an obvious possibility that the next leader come from the military. He also said that there have been extensive, continuing contacts with the military, but the bottom line is that the people will control this.
Based on the overnight news -- and morning broadcasts -- he said, "All the signs are there is a return of some normalcy" pointing to the Internet being back on, and some businesses reopening, clearly outdated by events.
In fact, speaking without knowing that the streets were actually at that moment beginning to erupt in clashes, Daley said that the president's message to Mubarak was that the No. 1 concern for the government of Egypt and the United States is that the transition remain peaceful, but that it is for the people of Egypt to determine what the next steps are.
Asked if U.S. standing in the region might be better off after Mubarak, he said, "We are trying to avoid being put in a negative position. The president has been very up front to say the will of the people has to be responded to.”
What if the will of the people moves toward the Muslim Brotherhood? "We would hope it came out of this crisis a stronger democratic secular nation” that tries to lead for peace, Daley said.
It’s Groundhog Day in more ways than one… As with the Bill Murray movie, we seem trapped in the same day -- unrest in Egypt continues; we’re still debating health care; and we’re still watching the Obama-McCain drama… Does Romney in ’11 = McCain in ’07?... Some states are split on how to proceed after a federal judge ruled the health law unconstitutional… If the individual mandate is unconstitutional, then does that mean single-payer is back on the table (and what does the insurance industry think of that)?… Today's Obama-McCain meeting is set for 2:05 pm ET… Are Democrats getting two convention states (North Carolina and Virginia) for the price of one?... And where does Obama give his acceptance speech?
From Chuck Todd, Mark Murray, Domenico Montanaro, and Ali Weinberg
*** Groundhog Day: We probably aren’t the only ones who feel a little like Bill Murray’s character did after being trapped in the same day -- over and over again, though without Sonny & Cher’s “I’ve got you, babe” on the alarm radio. The unrest in Egypt continues. (“What is clear -- and what I indicated … to President Mubarak -- is my belief that an orderly transition must be meaningful, it must be peaceful, and it must begin now,” President Obama said last night.) We’re still debating the health-care law. (The Senate today takes up an amendment to repeal the measure, which isn't expected to pass, though it will be interesting to see if any Senate Dems vote with the GOP.) And we’re still watching the drama between Obama and the man he defeated in 2008, John McCain. (The two men meet at the White House this afternoon.) By the way, Punxsutawney Phil didn’t see his shadow, which means an early spring. (We can only hope…)
"The View" co-host Barbara Walters listens to former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney during an appearance on the show Tuesday.
*** McCain in ’07 = Romney in ’11? Speaking of feeling trapped in the same day over and over again, the situation that Mitt Romney currently faces seems a lot like “Groundhog Day,” too. Like John McCain was at the beginning of the ’08 cycle, Romney is the tenuous front-runner. And like McCain’s position on immigration (which almost took him down), Romney is struggling with an issue (health care) that’s at odds with the Republican base. As Romney said on “The View” yesterday, "We addressed a problem in Massachusetts that was designed to solve problems for the people of Massachusetts. But it is wrong and unconstitutional to take what is designed for one state and say we're going to apply that in every state." Yet it’s hard to see how the legal challenges to the federal health-care law help Romney. (What happens if the Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on this case in Feb. 2012?) Romney's explanation to the GOP base would likely be acceptable if he was the nominee already, but he's not. And his opponents, looking for ANY opening, are going to exploit this just like Romney did with McCain on immigration in 2007. The good news for Romney is that the campaign hasn’t started yet, and the new calendar makes it so he has even more time to recover.
Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen in a February 2008 photo. A day after a federal judge ruled the healthcare bill unconstitutional, Van Hollen said, "'This means that, for Wisconsin, the federal health care law is dead."
*** Split decision: Regarding the recent federal court ruling on the health law, the more than two-dozen states that were plaintiffs in the case are split on how to proceed after the decision. The Washington Post: "A day after a federal judge struck down the government's plan to overhaul the health-care system, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen issued a stern statement: 'This means that, for Wisconsin, the federal health care law is dead,' and that his state 'was relieved of any obligations or duties' to carry out the statute." But: "Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), on the other hand, pointed to the 700 people in his state with serious medical problems who already found insurance under the law. 'Who goes to these people,' the governor said in an interview, 'and tells them, "Sorry, a judge in Florida has decided we now need to put you out in the cold?"'"
*** Individual mandate vs. single-payer system: Consider this: If the Supreme Court ultimately strikes down the health-care law’s individual mandate, does that mean that a single-payer system is the only legitimate way to get to universal coverage and also bring down health costs? In a fascinating interview with the Washington Post, the conservative economist who’s viewed as the father of the individual mandate -- Mark Pauly -- says the idea originated as a way to avoid a single-payer system. “I believe you could achieve almost the same reduction of the uninsured with the subsidies and without the mandate. But CBO says that you leave about 40% of the uninsured population without coverage in that scenario,” Pauly said. “If we want to close that gap, then either we have to have a mandate or make insurance free for everyone and run by the government.”
*** Obama and McCain: As mentioned above, at 2:05 pm ET, President Obama meets in the Oval Office with Arizona Sen. John McCain. The last time they met privately was during the lame-duck session of Congress, to discuss “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and the DREAM Act -- both of which McCain ended up opposing. Before that meeting, at 11:35 am ET, Obama signs the New START Treaty, which the Senate ratified in December (and which McCain voted against, too). A senior administration official tells NBC’s Savannah Guthrie that today’s Obama-McCain meeting is the result of a call the president placed to McCain after the Arizona senator's op-ed praising Obama's handling of the Tucson shootings. A McCain aide tells Guthrie that the two men will likely discuss Egypt, free trade, earmarks, and immigration.
*** Double your pleasure, double your fun? Here’s an additional reason why Democrats picked Charlotte to host their 2012 convention: its proximity to another battleground state, Virginia. The New York Times: “A key selling point for North Carolina, officials said, was its proximity to Virginia, which Mr. Obama also carried. Democratic leaders said they intended to make Virginia an integral part of the convention by busing in activists and volunteers.”
*** Where does Obama give his acceptance speech? Now that Team Obama has chosen Charlotte, one well-informed convention-watcher tells First Read that the biggest question now becomes: What do they do for the acceptance speech? “They clearly see that as an organizing opportunity, and I can't imagine that they'd be satisfied doing a normal speech in [Charlotte’s Time Warner Arena] that's smaller than [Denver’s] Pepsi Center was. The people who made this decision think that Denver put Colorado over the top, so that's what was foremost in their minds in making this decision.” Is Bank of America Stadium, where the NFL Carolina Panthers play, the obvious venue for the acceptance speech? Is there another option? Also: Will the Carolina Panthers change the name of the stadium before 2012?
*** A few other Charlotte/convention thoughts: In 2008, neither Obama nor McCain were truly, truly invested in the Tar Heel State (though Team Obama certainly spent more resources and time there). But come 2012, it will be a fully engaged swing state… Despite its political benefits for the Democrats, Charlotte presents these two problems -- Charlotte’s association to the financial/banking industry, and the fact that organized labor isn’t going to be thrilled that North Carolina is a right-to-work state… Did Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill privately lobby AGAINST St. Louis getting the Dem convention, as the New York Times suggests?... And then there’s the weather. Given that both conventions will take place on the East Coast, hurricane season COULD be a problem…
Countdown Chicago’s mayoral election: 20 days
Countdown to Election Day 2011: 279 days
Countdown to the Iowa caucuses: 369 days
* Note: When the IA caucuses take place depends on whether other states move up
President Barack Obama speaks about the situation in Egypt in the Grand Foyer of the White House on Tuesday.
The New York Times: "President Obama declared on Tuesday night that an 'orderly transition' in Egypt 'must begin now,' but he stopped short of demanding that President Hosni Mubarak leave office immediately. Mr. Obama used his four-and-a-half minute speech from the Cross Hall of the White House to embrace the cause of the protestors in Egypt far more fully than he has at any previous moment since the uprising against Mr. Mubarak’s 30-year-rule began."
Politico: Sources said Obama privately urged Mubarak to step down now, but in his public remarks the president didn’t clearly indicate whether he thought Mubarak should stay until September, or play a role in the transition of power. 'The only new element was the word "now" and that was finessed,' said Aaron David Miller, a former Middle East peace negotiator now at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 'This leaves the U.S. to some degree still at odds with and out of step with what the political opposition … is demanding on the street.'"
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper in a January 2011 photo.
Per the Washington Post, "A day after a federal judge struck down the government's plan to overhaul the health-care system, Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen issued a stern statement: 'This means that, for Wisconsin, the federal health care law is dead,' and that his state 'was relieved of any obligations or duties' to carry out the statute." But: "Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D), on the other hand, pointed to the 700 people in his state with serious medical problems who already found insurance under the law. 'Who goes to these people,' the governor said in an interview, 'and tells them, "Sorry, a judge in Florida has decided we now need to put you out in the cold?"'"
"Democratic and Republican lawmakers believe the Supreme Court will ultimately decide the fate of President Obama’s healthcare law, and some of them are already exerting pressure on the justices," The Hill writes. "The high-stakes lobbying comes as the Senate is scheduled to vote on a healthcare repeal bill Wednesday… Republicans want the case to reach the Supreme Court swiftly. The Obama administration, however, is in no rush for it to reach the nine justices who sit on the other side of First Street from the Capitol."
"Incoming White House press secretary Jay Carney can be intense in his pushback of reporters’ stories, but don’t expect Carney to be the White House’s daily hatchet man when Republican presidential candidates take aim at President Obama," The Hill writes. "As the White House completes its staff reorganization, officials say part of Carney’s new job will be to help keep Obama elevated above the nasty fray of partisan politics."
“Senate Republicans promise that the first vote to repeal the health care reform law, which is likely to happen Wednesday but is expected to fail, won’t be the last strike at President Barack Obama’s signature legislation,” Politico writes. “Senate Democrats are confident they can defeat the Republican amendment to repeal the law in a procedural vote with few, if any, defections.”
"The Senate this week seems closer than ever to approving a repeal of the widely opposed 1099 language in last year's healthcare law, with Democrats and Republicans prepared to support nearly identical repeal language," The Hill writes. "Sen. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) re-introduced repeal language this week as an amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorization bill."
"Buoyed by a federal court ruling, Senate Republicans maneuvered for a vote to repeal the year-old health care law last night while the party’s potential White House contenders took turns urging them on," the AP writes, adding, "A showdown vote is possible as early as today in the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority and the bill’s opponents far short of the 60 that would be needed to clear it."
Social Security, Medicare, and virtually every other federal program would face the budget ax under legislation unveiled yesterday aimed at forcing Congress to dramatically cut spending over the coming decade," AP writes. "The bill, cosponsored by Senators Claire McCaskill, Democrat of Missouri, and Bob Corker, Republican of Tennessee, would phase in a federal spending cap of just more than 20 percent of the size of the economy, which they said would wring almost $8 trillion from the budget over the coming 10 years. Cuts of that magnitude would have to fall heavily on Social Security and Medicare, the retirement programs whose costs are rocketing with the retirement of the baby boom generation."
"Newly minted Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa and ranking member Elijah Cummings are having a hard time hiding their antagonism toward one another," Roll Call writes. "And the panel has barely gotten started."
The Charlotte Observer: "Charlotte's selection on Tuesday as the site of the 2012 Democratic National Convention not only marks a triumph for organizers but signals President Barack Obama's intent to build on the Southern inroads he made in 2008. 'We wanted to show we were playing in a very aggressive way going to the South,' said Democratic National Committee Chairman Tim Kaine."
The AP: "President Obama’s selection of this Southern city for the 2012 Democratic convention signals he will try to reassemble his diverse coalition of 2008 supporters and fight for the conservative-leaning states that helped him win the White House."
“A key selling point for North Carolina, officials said, was its proximity to Virginia, which Mr. Obama also carried. Democratic leaders said they intended to make Virginia an integral part of the convention by busing in activists and volunteers,” the New York Times adds.
BARBOUR: While in Israel later this week, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour (R) will meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
DANIELS: The Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody asks who, if Mitch Daniels runs for president, will “call him out” on Daniels’ asking for a “truce” on social issues. “Whoever does it first will immediately endear himself or herself to social conservatives nationwide. Who’s going to do it?”
GINGRICH: “A characteristically feisty Newt Gingrich mixed it up – and traded some good-natured cracks - with Howard Dean about immigration policy and a host of other hot-button issues Tuesday night during a student-sponsored debate at George Washington University,” Politico writes.
The former House speaker and his wife Callista added their voices to the chorus of praise for late president Ronald Reagan, penning an op-ed in USA Today commemorating his 100th birthday, calling Reagan “an everyday hero whose life was defined by a deep patriotism.”
Former Arkansas Gov. and Republican presidential contender Mike Huckabee, right, shakes hands with children during his visit to a performing arts center in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel, Tuesday.
HUCKABEE: “Potential 2012 U.S. presidential candidate Mike Huckabee told Jewish settlers Monday that attempts to prevent them from building in east Jerusalem are as outrageous as housing discrimination in the United States,” the AP writes. “‘I cannot imagine, as an American, being told I could not live in certain places in America because I was Christian, or because I was white, or because I spoke English,’ he said.”
Huckabee will speak at an anti-abortion dinner in Orlando, Florida on February 15, according to WORL Radio. The event will benefit Heroic Media, which places “positive, life-affirming television commercials, billboards and Internet in Florida.”
HUNTSMAN: “Mark McKinnon, a former Democrat and co-founder of the non-partisan group ‘No Labels,’ had nothing but praise for the former chief executive in a statement to Hotline On Call.” "John Huntsman's entry into the Republican primary race adds a needed element of freshness and excitement that has been lacking," McKinnon told Hotline. "He's a serious player with solid credentials. He should be taken seriously."
ROMNEY: In an interview on CNN last night, Mitt Romney said this about 2012, per NBC’s Catherine Chomiak: "I don't have an answer for you yet because there a lot of things you have to consider before you make that final decision. Clearly, I'm doing the things like other folks are doing to keep the option open and moving forward in the event that I make a positive decision. But there are matters of health, of support, of the kind of network you'd like to have of individuals behind you. Those are things you've got to assess before you make a final decision."
Romney added, "No, I don't have a 100% answer ready to go. My wife thinks I should run. She's absolutely committed. She's saying 'You gotta run,' 'You gotta have somebody who understands the world of the economy.'"
Romney also read the Top 10 on Letterman last night. Here are few highlights, per the Boston Globe: No. 10: "'Mitt' is short for 'Mitt-thew.'" No. 9, Romney joked that he can't begin his day without reading The Washington Post — and socialite Kim Kardashian's Tweets. No. 8: "I'm the guy in the photo that comes in your picture frame.'' Here's a clip of the segment.
NEVADA: "The Senate Ethics Committee appointed a special counsel yesterday to lead the investigation of activities connected to Senator John Ensign’s affair with a political aide," AP writes. "The move is a dramatic turn in the probe of the Nevada Republican that has been underway for six months, suggesting the scrutiny will run deep into the 2012 election season."
From NBC's Ken Strickland
Senate Republicans sponsoring a bill that would make dramatic cuts in spending - including caps on Social Security - were joined Tuesday by an atypical ally: a Democrat.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., accompanied by Sen. Claire McCaskill,D-Mo., gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.,introduced the bill along with chief co-sponsor Bob Corker and other Senate Republicans.
"I will try to be as obnoxious as possible trying to get more Democrats to join this cause," McCaskill said. "It's a little lonely right now, but I'm convinced there's merit in this proposal that is reasonable."
McCaskill is up for re-election in 2012 in what's expected to be a close race.
The bill would put caps on all spending, including mandatory spending on entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare, gradually reducing it from the current percentage of the gross domestic product from the current 24.7 to the 40-year historical level of 20.6 percent.
If Congress fails to meet those caps, the bill would authorize the White House's Office of Management and Budget to make cuts throughout the budget to reach the prescribed levels. The cuts could only be skirted by a two-thirds vote on both the House and Senate.
"If we don't [make the required spending cuts] OMB does the job for us, which I think will be very, very painful," said Corker.
McCaskill predicted on Tuesday that she may catch flak for backing the Republican bill.
"I know this is going to be controversial,” she said. “And I know there's a real political risk here because I guarantee you in Missiouri--in the not too distant future--there'll be a 30 second commercial saying I'm trying to take Social Security away from seniors. Just the opposite. I'm trying to make sure Social Security remains."
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid didn’t dispute that forecast today.
Asked about the Corker/McCaskill bill at a news conference, Reid said, "I will do everything that I can in throwing my legislative body in front of any efforts to weaken Social Security," he said. "People should leave Social Security alone."
From NBC's Ken Strickland
Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Daniel Inouye said today that there will be no earmarks in legislation in the 112th Congress.
"[T]he handwriting is clearly on the wall," Inouye said in a statement. "The president has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them. Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law."
Here's his full statement:
"I continue to support the Constitutional right of members of Congress to direct investments to their states and districts under the fiscally responsible and transparent earmarking process that we have established.
"However, the handwriting is clearly on the wall. The president has stated unequivocally that he will veto any legislation containing earmarks, and the House will not pass any bills that contain them. Given the reality before us, it makes no sense to accept earmark requests that have no chance of being enacted into law.
"The Appropriations Committee will thoroughly review its earmark policy to ensure that every member has a precise definition of what constitutes an earmark. To that end, we will send each member a letter with the interpretation of Rule XLIV (44) that will be used by the Committee. If any member submits a request that is an earmark as defined by that rule, we will respectfully return the request.
"Next year, when the consequences of this decision are fully understood by the members of this body, we will most certainly revisit this issue and explore ways to improve the earmarking process. At the appropriate time, I will once again urge the Senate to consider a transparent and fair earmark process that protects our rights as legislators to answer the petitions of our constituents, regardless of what the President or some Federal bureaucrat thinks is right."